Whether it comes to health care or entertainment, simplicity isn’t in vogue today. People in both fields have increasingly come to rely on big budgets and cutting-edge technology. Myra Bennett—a British nurse who cared almost single-handedly for the people on the north peninsula of Newfoundland for more than 50 years—had neither of these comforts. The same goes for ATP’s production of Tempting Providence, the Robert Chafe play based on her life, though that didn’t deter people from seeking Bennett’s aid, nor has it stopped audiences from taking in the play she inspired.
“I think it has universal themes,” says Deidre Gillard Rowlings, who plays Bennett. “It’s about community and I think that’s something that people are mourning the loss of in our society.”
Critics, by and large, agree with her; many have cited the play’s engaging simplicity as its greatest strength. Although Tempting Providence has drawn mostly positive reviews, some critics have complained that there’s not enough action in it. On the surface, this might seem a fair assessment. After all, there’s only one set, and it consists of just a table, a table cloth and four chairs. But Rowlings disputes such criticism.
“It’s not an action film,” she says. “I actually think there’s lots of action in it. It’s about a woman who did extraordinary things. The play asks you to use your imagination. If [people] want action, they can go watch Snakes on a
In fact, Tempting Providence has probably attracted almost as many viewers so far as that box office flop, and much better reviews. Since it premiered in Newfoundland in 2002, it has travelled across Canada, Austrlia and Britain—where it was seen at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe. That’s a big leap for something designed for performances in Newfoundland nursing homes, but both the play’s set and its cast have remained pretty much the same in every locale it’s travelled to. That’s the way Rowlings, who hails from the same region in Newfoundland where Bennett plied her
trade, likes it.
“[The set] is an integral part of the play,” says Rowlings. “I think the set and the way the set is manipulated is one of the great strengths of the play. I think it is as important as the story.”
Indeed, the story and the set are closely linked. For all the technological advances that have been made in recent decades, it’s worth asking whether the results have been uniformly positive. Clearly, something of the human touch has been lost in the process. Watching Tempting Providence, many people may wish there were more plays as simply heartfelt as
Tempting Providence runs from Fri., March 16 until Sun., Apr. 1. Ticket information is available at www.atplive.com.