Sunday, April 14, 2013

Theatre review: "Litte Gem" at City Theatre-Sunday 14th April 2013

Sitting in a circle surrounding a smaller, simple circle, attending Little Gem by Elaine Murphy at City Theatre, you might wonder if anything complicated and truly dramatic can surface. And when you look into the program book and see two long and dense columns translating Dublin-like slang you may fear that you’re about to have problems following what these characters will do and say.

Never mind, for you are about to engaged in a sweet and wonderful encounter with the lives of three Irish women who reveal themselves in words and action which unfold like slowly blooming flowers, whose parts are revealed subtly and completely  with never a sense of obvious theatricality.  Credit director Kimberly Senior and her outstanding cast, among which Robin Walsh glows with inner beauty.
These are, indeed, seemingly rather basic Irish folk, but they could hail from any working class part of the world, of course without the accents and the vocabulary (peppered with recurring ,simple profanity.)  So, should you be expecting the often- invoked harshness, darkness and sorrow common to many plays about people of that land, you will, instead, become aware that everyone portrayed is a good person and a kind person. Expect to be charmed, to smile and find a few tears welling up in your eyes. Murphy deserves her awards. 

Most of the time, in three alternating monologues, Kay , Lorraine and Amber talk directly to you about a time of change in their lives, sometimes personifying other people, especially four men.  Kay, the oldest speaks of James, aka “Gem,” her increasingly frail husband, Lorraine’s da. Ray, Lorraine’s ex, is a homeless drug addict yet, eventually, Lorraine has a happy relationship with Niall. Meanwhile, Lorraine’s 19 year old daughter Amber has become pregnant during her on again off again connections with Paul. She gives birth to “Little Gem” who adds new life, bringing the family closer together as does a parallel death. 
For much of the play, gram, ma and daughter stand separately, telling of their problems and their feelings, revealing themselves gradually, naturally. Ultimately, they bond, as other families might in similar circumstances, gathering strength in togetherness. Here too, Murphy shines.  Director Senior makes it work perfectly. As does her cast.
Walsh’s phenomenal performance stirs the heart of the play while Pittsburgh’s Cary Anne Spear and Point Park grad Hayley Nielsen give equal truth and meaning to Kay and Amber. 

I found that the first act takes longer than it needs. But the cumulative experience can send you out into your own part of the world, feeling a strong and, indeed, loving connection with people such as these, people not so very far away as you might think.

Little Gem continues through May 5th at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street on the South Side. 412.431.CITY (2489) or


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