HOW IT WORKS written and directed by Daniel MacIvor (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). To December 16. Pwyc-$38. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNN
How It Works does. And surprisingly, this fine production succeeds in part because of its simplicity.
Writer/director Daniel MacIvor's play, more traditional than most of his earlier scripts, focuses on divorced Halifax parents Al and Donna, their drug-addicted daughter Brooke and the catalyst in their family unit, Al's new friend Christine, who takes on the task of ending Brooke's substance dependence.
As narrator, Christine offers some philosophical meditations on life, her own and others', and literally sets the scenes we watch. Long-time MacIvor performer Caroline Gillis could not be warmer or more natural in the role, funny one moment and thought-provoking the next.
Her scenes with Brooke are especially effective, as the understanding Christine - who harbours a few secrets of her own - picks away at the troubled young woman's past and offers tough but empathetic love.
But she also brings up a recurrent theme in MacIvor's work, the importance of storytelling as a comfort and a means of moving us through life's pain. It's not by chance that the first act is straightforward narrative and the second weaves back and forth through time, with Brooke recalling earlier episodes that shed light on her current state.
Bethany Jillard's Brooke is a splendid creation, filled with nuance and that awkward teen blend of pushiness and tentativeness. (She's just been cast in My Name Is Rachel Corrie, and I can't wait to see her tackle that complex role.)
Fiona Highet brings both elegance and a sense of puzzlement to Donna; she's more out of the loop than her husband when it comes to her daughter's actions.
The first meeting between the nervous Donna and the open Christine has the awkwardness we've all experienced when meeting an ex's new partner, along with a dollop of humour and understanding of that hole-in-the-stomach feeling.
Tom Barnett's Al also has an element of wariness, and there's great skill in the way the actor opens up the character in the course of the show.
Played out on Kim Purtell's spare, brown-toned set, How It Works is likewise straightforward in its story, but we leave the theatre remembering the emotional subtleties and truths beneath the surface. One of the best shows in town.