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Little Gem

Elaine Murphy's engaging play recounts the experiences of three generations of Irish women.

Anita Reeves in Little Gem
(© Futoshi Sakauch)
Elaine Murphy's eventually engaging Little Gem, now at the Flea Theatre, is one of those plays where you know what you're in for as soon as you take your seat, look at the stage, and see three unmatched chairs facing squarely out. And sure enough, when the lights dim and go up again, Anita Reeves, Hilda Fay, and Sarah Greene have taken their places on Alice Butler's minimal set as respectively, Irish grandmother Kay, mother Lorraine, and granddaughter Amber, who take turns describing events that have swirled around them over a couple of years' duration.

Through that time, Amber, who speaks first and uses the trendy word "massive" a lot, goes from being a rebellious teen to being a teenage mom, thanks to a fellow named Paul who takes a powder to Australia after learning he's to be a dad. Lorraine, chatting second, gabs a little about being a saleslady but mostly about finding new romantic life with an unusually hairy but otherwise pleasant bloke called Niall, while Kay comments on her experiences, which include the death of her cherished husband Gem after 42 years of marriage.

As is the case with monologue-driven plays, Murphy doesn't show us during the years covered how their lives unfold like weeds pushing up through cracks in cement; rather, she tells us face-to-face what they endure, survive and how -- as the final image of them is detailed but not acted out -- they share a loving interrelationship.

Unquestionably, Murphy has provided juicy parts for the three family-story-tellers; these actresses have more challenging soliloquies than Hamlet and Lear combined and put their all into them. In fact, under Paul Meade's direction, Greene and Fay give perhaps a little two much, since they spend the first two-thirds of their stage time giving the impression they're constitutionally unable to remain still for longer than five seconds.

Moreover, the performers apparently feel the need to supply a change of pose, a gesture, a grimace for every phrase. If one of them mentions pulling something, she mimes pulling; if one of them mentions dancing, she dances a few eccentric steps; if one of them mentions her character has taken "a big gulp," she mimes taking a big gulp. But just when a spectator is ready to yell, "enough already," they calm down, and Greene and Fay give their roles some breathing space.

By play's end Little Gem has become, at the very least, a gleaming zircon.


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