Buried family secrets and revelations bubble to the surface in this inter generational family drama.
Reviewed by Ilana Novick
Little Gem is the story of three generations of women in the Neville family in Dublin, Ireland, each at a different turning point in their lives—Amber, a suddenly pregnant 19-year-old; Amber’s mother, Lorraine, who is trying to cope with being left by her husband (eight years ago); and Amber’s grandmother, Kay, whose husband is slowly dying. Though they occupy the same set—a living room that doubles as a things like nightclubs, pubs, and cemeteries—there is no dialogue. Instead, a spotlight illuminates each woman and her chair, allowing quick snaps between the 18 intertwined monologues of the show. But Little Gem is far more just a series of speeches, and the actresses still have plenty of chemistry, with each scene domino-effecting the next. Reactions, not interactions, are what provide the stakes, suspense, and our emotional investment.
These actresses are great storytellers, too: oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the holiday party where Lorraine (Hilda Fay) attempts to keep herself together after a very public battle with a customer. Fay is touching and hilarious, and she carries a lot of history in her body, from those tense shoulders to her wide eyes, which show the strength to blink back tears or the glimmer of hope as her fortunes turn.
As Amber, Sarah Greene provides substance to the tan surface, displaying both the bravado and fear of a girl suddenly swamped with responsibility. Though Amber tries to simply coast through her days as a receptionist (in order to fund her vodka, cocaine, and deadbeat boyfriend habits), and gossips frivolously, Greene reveals the fear and the longing underneath the posturing.
However, Anita Reeves, who plays Kay, turns out to be the most heartbreaking and hilarious, speaking with stark clarity about the uncomfortable itch she’s had since her husband’s stroke and subsequent lack of physical attention. Seeing her reenactment of shopping for her first vibrator is embarrassing (to her), but given Reeves’s strength, also strangely liberating. Meanwhile, her dedication to small moments, like hugging the bedsheets on her first night after her husband’s funeral, is simply heart-wrenching.
Little Gem’s greatest strength is in the way that the lives of these three individual women seem universal for all women. Don’t all families, women in particular, engage in a kind of reverse backstabbing ? Being much more loving towards women may not be able to communicate with one another, but in working out how to cope with life in the aftermath of death, birth, and new romance, these women reveal plenty about themselves and nature of female relationships to the audience.
Little Gem (70 minutes, no intermission)
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