Frontier stories are known to be great cultural archives but boring reads. Not so with Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s Tempting Providence, written by Robert Chafe, directed by Jillian Keiley and performed at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in January 2006. It’s a play about Myra Bennett, a British-born nurse known to Newfoundlanders as the Florence Nightingale of the North. When she arrived in Daniel’s Harbour in 1921 on a two-year nursing contract, no roads or railways existed and a coastal steamer operated only in good weather. Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, who played Bennett, embodied the spirit of a steely woman whose sense of loyalty and duty to the people in her charge made her a lonely, old-fashioned hero. It’s this loneliness and vulnerability that Angus Bennett (played by Darryl Hopkins) detected beneath the hard practical edges, and he married her less than a year into her stay. Some of her legendary feats were depicted in the play: when her brother-in-law (played by Robert Wyatt Thorne) severs his foot at a lumber mill during the dead of winter, she cleans his foot and sews it back onto the leg. Then she and Angus trudge over 100 kilometres pulling him by sled, and deliver him to the doctor three days later. The doctor cancels the amputation and credits Myra’s handiwork. As it happens, Bennett stayed in Newfoundland, raised three kids and four foster kids, delivered seven hundred babies, worked as doctor and nurse, baked her own bread and lived to be a hundred. The dialogue in Tempting Providence captured such people—those who lived without much material comfort but with a great sense of community, and the contrast between Bennett’s Queen’s English and the dialect of the local women offered moments of irony and self-mockery that made Bennett and her story more three-dimensional than the usual heroics of the frontier. Best of all, the actors transformed the simple set—a wooden table, four chairs and a single white sheet—into so many compositions that the pace and rhythm of the story never lulled—not once. They moulded the sheet, for instance, into a boat, crib, sled, bread, dough and a newborn baby. This artistry and economy of props amazed the audience as the play illustrated pioneer life without kitsch and hard-knocks dolour.