BWW Review: PRECIOUS LITTLE at Nora Theatre Company
Written by Madeleine George, Directed by Melia Bensussen; Scenic Design, Judy Gailen; Costume Design/Properties Coordinator, Elizabeth Rocha; Lighting Design, Wen-Ling Liao; Sound Design, Nathan Leigh; Assistant Director, Zachary Rice; Stage Manager, Cassie M. Seinuk; Assistant Stage Manager, Erin Baglole
Performances through March 26 by The Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA; Box Office 617-576-9278 or www.CentralSquareTheater.org
Madeleine George chose to name her play Precious Little, but there is nothing little about the panoply of topics she includes to challenge both her characters and the audience. The protagonist is a research linguist desperately trying to catalogue and study a dying language before its last embers are extinguished. Simultaneously, she is dealing with ambiguous genetic testing results after undergoing amniocentesis, facing the possibility that her unborn child may never acquire language skills. While searching for support and guidance as she faces a crucial decision, she finds greater connection with a gorilla at the zoo than with the people in her life.
The Nora Theatre Company hews to its mission of presenting works with a feminist perspective. Precious Little, written by a female playwright, is directed by Melia Bensussen and features three women portraying eight characters, most of whom are women. Lee Mikeska Gardner plays Brodie, a 42-year old lesbian pregnant with her first child, who has a lot on her plate. She has had a successful career and has just found the time to have a baby, even as she is deeply involved in trying to preserve the Kari language. Brodie sees the world through the eyes of a scientist, resulting in her having less than successful personal relationships and making it difficult for her to accept and understand newfound emotions that erupt when she gets the test results.
Nancy E. Carroll anchors the story in three diverse roles. She is an experienced, matter-of-fact mentor at the testing facility who quietly looks over the shoulder of the younger woman who handles Brodie's case. Without really giving her any advice, Dorothy talks Brodie off the ledge, helping her to understand that she will make the decision that is right for her. Carroll underplays Dorothy with a minimum of gestures or inflections. In contrast, she gets to be a "character" as the elderly woman who is one of the last Kari speakers, conveying her frailty and senile tendencies. Her most notable portrayal is the aforementioned gorilla, which she captures splendidly without benefit of a costume. Carroll's combination of movements and stillness offer a realistic interpretation of the animal's behaviors in its caged environment. She definitely did her homework on this one.
Karoline Xu shows her range as she plays the young woman at the testing facility, as well as the ultrasound technician who conducts the test; Brodie's graduate assistant/girlfriend; the harried daughter to Carroll's elderly woman; and a medley of anonymous voices of people visiting the zoo. She accomplishes most of the character differentiation by a change of attitude and tone of voice, along with putting on or removing a lab coat or a sweater. The common thread running through her characters is a lack of empathy, and she finds a variety of ways to portray it.
The staging places the audience on three sides of the set which results in the actors always facing away from one or two sections of seats. This presents a huge problem for those of us who might have some difficulty in hearing (the Central Square Theater does not have assistive listening devices), and I missed large swaths of dialogue. Xu's volume is okay, but she speaks very rapidly; Gardner is mostly successful at projecting her voice; depending on which end of the stage her scenes take place determines whether or not I could discern Carroll's lines. I was able to procure a copy of the script and read the play to clarify what I was unable to get from the performance, but it's far from the ideal way to evaluate and write a review. I'm not sure what George means by the play's title, but precious little is what I was able to hear or understand.
Photo credit: A.R. Sinclair Photography (Lee Mikeska Gardner, Karoline Xu)