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Something doesn’t click in MacIvor’s How It Works - Scott Overton

Secrets can be powerful. If you let them, they will shape your life. That’s a key message of How It Works at the Sudbury Theatre Centre.
Cast members of the Sudbury Theatre Centre’s How It Works, from left, are Patricia Tedford, Erika Santillana, Rick Hughes and Jacklyn Francis. Marg Seregelyi Photo
Secrets can be powerful. If you let them, they will shape your life.
That’s a key message of How It Works at the Sudbury Theatre Centre.

Written by East Coast playwright Daniel MacIvor and directed by STC Artistic Director David Savoy, the play tells the story of a cop named Al, his new girlfriend Christine, Al’s daughter Brooke, and his ex-wife Donna — a blended family linked by a serious problem: Brooke’s addiction to pretty much any street drug she can get.

Why is Brooke giving her life to drugs? Al and Donna seem to have been a normal couple. They both love Brooke deeply, and she knows it.

She seems to have had the usual social angst that most teens experience, but no worse than that.

So why is her life on a path to destruction?

Al and Donna are at a loss to solve the mystery, and it takes some intervention by Christine to get to the root of it, inspired by secrets of her own.

It’s an engaging story, and it’s effectively portrayed by the cast.
Rick Hughes as Al and Thorneloe University teacher Patricia Tedford as Donna are believable in their roles.

Erika Santillana as Brooke has a tough challenge to portray a drug addict in withdrawal, and she does it convincingly. And the success of the plot’s premise depends on the right mix of determination and earthy charm from the character of Christine, which Jacklyn Francis delivers.

Yet How It Works doesn’t deliver the impact it should.

MacIvor is partly to blame, since he does too much telling in the first act and not enough showing — a number of times he has the characters recount an episode in their lives, and then shows us the actual scene played out in flashback later.

That would be an effective technique if, say, the characters’ recollection of the event was vastly different from the reality, but it isn’t. The talkiness in the first act needs to be overcome by very tight pacing, and it wasn’t yet there in the opening night performance I saw.

The second act was much better, with a lot more of the actual drama, humour, and pathos of the story acted out for the audience.

Unfortunately, the cause of Brooke’s addiction problems isn’t that hard to figure out, and if you do, the conclusion of the play falls flat.

MacIvor could have remedied that with a few “red herrings,” or more indications of real conflict in this broken family. I was left wondering why Al and Donna are divorced at all.

Even so, the play does deliver a worthwhile message about healing, and a cautionary lesson about letting secrets derail our lives.

How It Works plays at the Sudbury Theatre Centre until November 11th. The box office number is 705-674-8381 x21 or go online to .

Scott Overton is the morning show host on Rewind 103.9 and author of the thriller Dead Air. He writes theatre reviews for Northern Life.