BWW Review: New Company Prime Productions Debuts with LITTLE WARS
There's a brand new professional theater company in the theater-rich Twin Cities. Called Prime Productions, they've got a clear sense of mission: to present work with roles for women over 50, both on and off-stage. Founded by three long-time theater women with varied backgrounds (Shelli Place worked in LA as an actor and dialogue/speech coach for decades, Allison Edwards was a NY-based actor for many years, and Elena Giannetti, native to Minneapolis, worked in LA as well as the Twin Cities), they are mounting their first show in space borrowed from the Mixed Blood theater company.
LITTLE WARS, by Steven Carl McCasland, imagines a dinner party that never happened. It's 1940 in France, just as that nation falls under Nazi occupation. Gertrude Stein and her life companion Alice B. Toklas have left war-ravaged Paris for a home in the French Alps. There, they continue the salons for which they were famous. McCasland conjures a gathering of writers including Agatha Christie, who has brought along Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker. They are joined by a mysterious American psychiatrist, Muriel Gardner, traveling under the assumed name of Mary. All are served by the housemaid, Bernadette, whose traumatic (and eventually triumphant) personal history frames the story.
Necessarily talky, the script could benefit from some judicious trimming, but the talk is sharp. Particularly barbed are the exchanges between Stein and Hellman, whose mutual antipathy has deep roots. That 'dinner' really means prodigious amounts of alcohol leads to a succession of tell-all monologues. That all the characters are Jewish except Agatha Christie, whose allegiances are suspect, brings issues to the fore that have a contemporary echo. How much does it matter to save individuals from looming destruction, in the face of geopolitical atrocities?
78 actresses showed up for open auditions when this show was being cast, one indicator of how deep the talent pool in the Twin Cities is. LITTLE WARS features seven good roles, ranging in age from 22 to 65. All are effectively interpreted in this production. Candace Barrett Birk seems to channel Gertrude Stein. Sue Scott, now freed from 24 years in the Acting Company of A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, gives a lovely warm performance as the patient Alice B. Toklas, without being a pushover. Miriam Schwartz is eloquent (even when wordless) as the pivotal Bernadette.
Shelli Place's direction helps sculpt the tempos in this night of revelations. The set by Meagan Kedrowski is a cluttered, bookish, artsy feast, and Andrea M. Gross' costumes do much to establish both period and character. The show runs 100 minutes without intermission, and plays through May 21.
Next fall, Prime Productions will stage a series of readings of shows featuring women of a certain age. This is a neglected set of narratives, and it's a gift to have a talented team lean in to bringing more such stories to the stage. LITTLE WARS is a promising start to what could well become a body of important work. Stay tuned!
photo credit: Joseph Giannetti