TEMPTING PROVIDENCE by Robert Chafe, directed by Jillian Keiley (Factory/Theatre Newfoundland Labrador). At Factory Mainspace (125 Bathurst). To April 22. $25-$35.50, Sunday pwyc-$20. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
There are two key reasons to see Theatre Newfoundland Labrador 's fine production of Robert Chafe 's Tempting Providence . It's the kind of simple, eloquent and moving theatrical storytelling we don't often see in Toronto, and it's superbly directed by the talented Jillian Keiley .
The central character is British nurse Myra Bennett ( Deidre Gillard-Rowlings ), who arrived on Newfoundland's west coast in 1921 to spend, she thought, two years taking care of the locals, who previously had no formal medical care. She ended up working half a century, married a village man - Angus ( Darryl Hopkins ), through whose eyes we see much of the action - and became a local legend as a puller of teeth, deliverer of babies and veterinarian.
Chafe's series of short scenes moves along briskly, and Keiley makes magical use of the simple set of four chairs, a table and a piece of white cloth, transformed into a seemingly infinite number of props and set pieces.
But the show wouldn't work without a strong ensemble, which includes Melanie Caines and Robert Wyatt Thorne as various members of the hard-working community, all of whom are slow to trust this outsider who, at the outset, doesn't know how to bake bread or darn a sock.
Gillard-Rowlings rightly anchors the show as the often stern, matter-of-fact Myra, emotions hidden but bubbling under the surface. Angus's gentle wooing eventually beguiles her and wins her over; the townspeople recognize their romance before she does.
Only later, when she's comfortably settled, does Myra let down her guard and display a philosophical, meditative side and a devotion to her husband and daughter. Gillard-Rowlings's performance is simple and gorgeous, just like the production.
The final episode, a rescue drama that hits close to home, is as exciting as anything currently on a local stage. Skilfully paced, dramatically involving and thrillingly performed, it shows Keiley and company at their best.
Note to Toronto theatres: please give Keiley more work here. She's the real thing.