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Small Things help women connect in Atlantic premiere of MacIvor play

Heather Rankin, Jenny Munday and Stephanie MacDonald star in the comedy about three women in rural Nova Scotia trying to find common ground in the Mulgrave Road Theatre production opening Thursday on Neptune Theatre's Scotiabank Stage.
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Heather Rankin, standing, and Stephanie MacDonald star as mother and daughter in Daniel MacIvor's Small Things, onstage at Neptune Theatre's Scotiabank Stage till Nov. 13. (TIMOTHY RICHARD)

Daniel MacIvor has a talent for getting inside people's heads, says Heather Rankin.

The singer-songwriter and actor starred in the Nova Scotia playwright's Bingo! at Neptune Theatre in 2012, earning a Merritt nomination for her role as Bitsy, a chatty and very direct woman who stayed at home in Sydney while some of her classmates moved away to pursue their dreams.

In MacIvor's Small Things, opening Thursday at Neptune Theatre's Scotiabank Stage, she plays Birdy, another very direct woman in a small town. 

"It's a comedy, a lovely little story about three women in rural Nova Scotia and each woman is facing their own challenge over the course of the play. They find ways of helping one another by connecting in small ways," says Rankin, at a media call for the play, which is a Mulgrave Road Theatre production.

"Birdy is a mother, grandmother and widow. She's a scrappy character who likes drama but doesn't like her buttons pushed and she's uncomfortable acknowledging her fear of being alone."

Birdy is hired as a housekeeper by Patricia (Jenny Munday), a retired school teacher who has moved to a big house on the same street as Birdy. Patricia bonds with Birdy's daughter, Dell (Stephanie MacDonald), making the uneasy relationship between the two widows even more strained.

"Patricia comes from a wealthy background. Her husband came from a wealthy family," explains Munday, who lives in Sackville, N.B., where she is the artistic director at Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre and a former Crake fellow in drama at Mount Allison University.

"She's very patrician. And very grounded. There's a way things are done and not done and she makes some assumptions."

Birdy and Dell are not like the people she's used to, continues Munday, the 2007 Theatre Nova Scotia Legacy Award recipient, who describes herself as a sucker for MacIvor's work.

IMG_8225Jenny Munday is retired school teacher Patricia in the Atlantic Canadian premiere of Daniel MacIvor's Small Things at Neptune's Scotiabank Studio Theatre till Nov. 13. (TIMOTHY RICHARD)

She starred in the original production of MacIvor's Marion Bridge with Emmy Alcorn, Mulgrave Road's artistic director, and with MacDonald in Kazan Theatre's Communion at Neptune Theatre and the National Arts Centre.

MacDonald, who was also in MacIvor's Marion Bridge in February 2016,  jokes that she's been on the Neptune stage only in MacIvor plays to date. She'll be part of The Boat, an adaptation of an Alistair MacLeod story at Neptune Theatre in March.

Dell, a single mom with two kids, is introduced at the beginning of Small Things as someone who is "a bit lost," says the actor who has won three Merritt Awards — as supporting actress in Valley Summer Theatre's Marion Bridge in 2015 and in Kazan's Communion in 2013 and as best actress in 2016 for Mulgrave Road Theatre's Watching Glory Die.

"She's thinking of doing a course in alternative medicine type stuff. She moved in with Birdy with her two kids to get something started but she's lost her motivation."

MacDonald, who is from a big family from Prospect Bay, feels she's like Dell in that she has a warmth about her but is very much to the point. She finds some similarities to her mother in the character of Birdy, and has an aunt or two who is similar to Patricia in the way they are formal and fancy.

"(Birdy) is fun to play because she goes off on rants that have nothing to do with anything going on around her and it's entertaining to see her interacting with people who are clearly not interested in her rants. And she has very sensitive moments where she reveals more about her fears," says Rankin, who was in a workshop production of Small Things at Chester Theatre in 2013 with Deb Allen and Andrea Lee Norwood. Small Things debuted at Winnipeg's Prairie Theatre Exchange in 2014 and the Halifax production, running to Nov. 13, is the play's Atlantic Canadian premiere. 

See also: Good Things Come in Small Packages in Small Things

Though the play is about three women, MacDonald believes the play will have universal appeal stressing the "incredible dialogue" from Governor General's award-winner MacIvor.

"It's nuanced," adds Rankin, who earned much acclaim as a member of the award-winning Rankin Family and has embarked on a solo career, releasing her debut A Fine Line on April 1.

MacIvor, a Cape Breton native now living in Halifax, is directing Small Things. Also an actor and screenwriter, he wrote the script for Weirdos, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Though Small Things is told from a feminine perspective, it's about what everyone goes through, says Munday.

"Often in plays women talk about men. In Daniel's plays they don't. When Patricia, Birdy and Dell talk, for the most part, it's not about men."

Costumes are designed by Janet MacLellan, sets and props by D'Arcy Morris-Poultney and lighting by Ingrid Risk, who is also stage manager.

Tickets start at $30 plus HST and service charges. Visit Neptune Theatre's box office to purchase online or call 902-429-7070 or 1-800-565-7345.



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