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I saw this production of TEMPTING PROVIDENCE a few years ago at GCTC and enjoyed it immensely. It’s no less enjoyable at a second viewing. TEMPTING PROVIDENCE by Robert Chafe tells the story of Nurse Myra Bennett, a woman of remarkable courage and dedication. She left her home in England in 1922 to provide medical services on the remote northern Newfoundland coast with its long and brutal winters. Originally committed for two years, she ended up staying for life in what she called “a great adventure”. During that time she delivered hundreds of babies and extracted 5,000 teeth. Nurse Bennett also fell in love, married and had a family. She passed away in 1990 at the age of 100.
Playwright Chafe tells Nurse Bennett’s story as a sort of docu-drama in an interesting combination of dialogue and narrative using only four actors. Since no set designer is credited, I assume that the spare but clever set of four ladder-back chairs, sturdy table, versatile sheet and a beige rug that defines the playing area are a group effort. Barry Buckle’s costumes are basic period dress entirely in shades of off-white and cream, while Terrance Rice’s lighting adds to the mood. Rufus Guinchard is responsible for the lively pre and post show fiddle music.
Director Jillian Keiley’s creative staging verges on choreography. She should get a special award for most creative use of a sheet. She also uses the actors to dance the table and chairs from scene to scene so they become everything from a rowboat to a sleigh. The fitting of the wedding dress is very clever and the staging of the Act I curtain is just plain terrific.
These actors make it all look easy. Willow Kean, the only change in cast from the GCTC production, does a fine job playing a number of women, from a pregnant farm wife to a sharp-tongued crone. Robert Wyatt Thorne is also good playing various men, especially young Alex.
Darryl Hopkins plays Nurse Bennett’s eventual husband Angus with humor, charm and a warm depth of understanding. A veteran who has been with the project since its inception, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings brings Nurse Bennett to full and three-dimensional life. She plays the no-nonsense character with crisp and unsentimental energy. However, this is a complex character, and she lets us catch glimpses of the softer side of Nurse Bennett in her scenes with Angus.
The production is mesmerizing and audience concentration so intense you could hear a pin drop. I found it impossible to take notes. TEMPTING PROVIDENCE brings this story of caring and courage to life in a fascinatingly theatrical way.
On a scale of one to five the Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s production of TEMPTING PROVIDENCE presented by the 1000 Islands Playhouse gets five fish. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.