Review: Three generations explore angst in City Theatre's 'Little Gem'
The title of Elaine Murphy's play — “Little Gem” — says it all.
Even if you spent an hour or two thumbing through Roget's Thesaurus, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more suitable title for this warmly entertaining drama about three stressed-out Irish women.
It's a carefully polished jewel that sparkles with well-drawn characters, each of whom speaks in a distinctive voice as they explore different facets of family relationships and communication.
Nineteen-year-old Amber, her 40-something mother, Lorraine, and her 60-plus grandmother Kay are united by birth yet isolated from each other by their inability to communicate and share.
It's not that they lack the ability to express themselves. They've got plenty to say, and they say it vividly when talking to the audience in the production that's playing at City Theatre through May 5.
They do it almost entirely in separate monologues that emphasize their wit, intelligence and strength as well as their isolation.
Each woman is at a pivotal point in her life.
Amber is about to lose her party-girl freedom. Kay, still deeply in love with her husband, refuses to share the burden of caring for him in his declining health. Lorraine buries her concerns for both of them in fits of cleaning.
The challenges Murphy's characters face are not monumental or tragic. They're the small troubles, sadnesses and frustrations that are familiar to regular people and audiences that can identify with.
Set in contemporary Dublin, the play moves swiftly over seven or eight months, during which we see these characters evolve with refreshing humor and genuine growth.
“Little Gem” is performed in the intimate Lester Hamburg Studio Theater, where director Kimberly Senior elected to stage the play in the round. That increases the relationship between audience and performer as the actresses are close enough to make eye contact as they tell their stories.
Set designer Jack Magaw and lighting designer Andrew David Ostrowski accommodate the play's many moods and locations with an assortment of flooring patterns and lighting fixtures that carry us through bars, houses, work places and exteriors.
Hayley Nielsen (Amber), Robin Walsh (Lorraine) and Kay (Cary Ann Spear) create characters that are precise, sympathetic and memorable. Even when they're at odds with each other, it's easy for audiences to appreciate each woman's point of view.
Although the men in their life are never physically present, the women describe them with such focused accuracy that they become recognizable.
The play's language and accent constantly reminds you of its Irish location. Monologues are heavily peppered with Dublin slang. Translations for some 70 of the words and terms are printed in the program.
It's a tribute to the performers, the director and dialect coach Don Wadsworth that the list is largely unnecessary. For the most part, actions, expressions and tones of voice convey meaning to unfamiliar expressions such as “manky” or “all wonder and no bap.”
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins president: General manager, coach won’t be fired
- NFL notebook: Sanchez says Eagles signed Tebow as extra arm in camp
- Rossi: Crosby, Malkin didn’t sign on for this
- Serious injury reported in Penn Hills fire
- Penguins’ Malkin: ‘We’re not a championship team’
- 3 names added to Tuskegee Airmen Memorial in Sewickley
- Parkway West closure canceled
- Defense dominates West Virginia’s spring game
- Views of Heinz Field entice National Guard recruits
- Hempfield man dies in single-vehicle accident
- 2 Hempfield Area students charged with sexting