Little Gem ****

Little Gem is a refreshing theatre piece.  It is about three strong-willed women who are on a journey of self discovery (in drama, when isn’t a character on one?).  It doesn’t use sentiment, stereotypes or contrived tricks but instead has an honest voice.

Three women give alternating monologues.  Through the course of their stories, we come to learn that they are in fact three generations of a family.  Kay is looking at the prospect of old age and is facing mortality and sexual dissatisfaction.  Daughter Lorraine is rebounding from a disastrous marriage that has taken a major toll, financially and emotionally.  Grand-daughter Amber is on the cusp of adulthood and has just made a life-changing discovery.

Most of these plotlines have been seen before.  It’s easy to laugh at a middle-aged woman’s unfortunate pick-up or at a pensioner shopping for sexual toys.  What the play greatly succeeds in is that it presents everything with a refreshingly truthful voice.  It is easy to genuinely care about the well being and happiness of these three women, and though at times they are in conflict with each other, you will find yourself rooting for all three.

The performances are excellent down the line.  All three performers, Anita Reeves as Fay, Hilda Fay as Lorraine and Sara Greene as Amber, each presents a character that seems both truthful and real.  These are not dramatic stereotypes but flawed women. 

Writer Elaine Murphy has written a script that is complex without being complicated and poetic without being too flowery.  It’s hard to believe that this is a first-time playwright because there is such maturity in the writing, not only in the dialogue but in the overall construction of the script.  Novices have a habit of over-explaining (something many experienced people do too), but here the audience is presented with exactly what it needs.  Murphy’s work as an actor has probably had a large hand in its success.

Director Paul Meade clearly trusts the script because he hasn’t tried to add too many flourishes.  All three actresses sit in chairs the entire 90-minute running time, only speaking and moving when the light comes up on them to continue their personal story.  That trust, of both writer and the actors, pays high emotional dividends and allows the audience to follow the three women’s stories much more carefully.

It is unfortunately rare to find drama that gives women ample opportunity to perform.  Most new plays are dominated by male characters.  Even plays that focus on women’s lives tend to be overshadowed by their men or, as Murphy says in her notes in the press packet, ‘there are so few working class…women in plays, unless they’re hookers or criminals’.  Here, we are simply given three women and their current struggles for individual freedom without any gimmicks or stereotypes.  And for that, I thank Murphy.

Little Gem is amply named, for this production is indeed a ‘little gem’.  It is funny, heartbreaking and poignant without being condescending

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Performing at the Traverse 2 from August 6-30.  For the correct dates and times, please check the Traverse’s website.

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