Review: 'All the Little Animals I Have Eaten' at the Big Secret Theatre

Vicki Trask

OnStage Calgary Critic

Some say the best art is the kind that evokes conversation because discussion creates growth, understanding, and inspiration. That is exactly how I would describe this 100 minute exploration into the unknown. 

As part of the 31st season of High Performance Rodeo hosted by One Yellow Rabbit, I attended “All the Little Animals I Have Eaten” on Friday January 13th. Written by renowned Canadian playwright Karen Hines, this four woman production follows Frankie, a new-wave feminist waitress on her shift at a self-sustaining French restaurant while she navigates life on her 24th sleepless day. Frankie, in her delirium, contemplates the universe all the way down to the sheep on the patio, and offers glimpses into the lives of women who come in and out of the restaurant – all while haunted by feminist icons and figments of her imagination whom she dubs “Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three.” 

I would be lying if I said I understood everything that I saw in the Big Secret Theatre on Friday night or that I left with a clear message that I could share with the world; and I am so glad for that. So often, I’ve seen theatre in two modes: digestible and easily understood, and new-wave interpretive and disconnected. I am either beaten to death with the message or I spend more time trying to understand the plot than I do the underlying moral. The longer I think about “All the Little Animals I Have Eaten” the more curious I grow; the more I remember moments that hadn’t quite settled into my brain when I initially saw them.

I love that I am being asked to work for my theatre. Not all the time, mind you – there is great value in straight forward performances – but in this case, I enjoyed the journey we took to end up with lambs, fortune tellers, and a revolving door of entertaining characters.

Director Blake Brooker has assembled a very unique production, showcasing the talents of four women on a relatively empty stage, sharing the same brain space as well as props and costumes. Sandi Somer’s lighting design was well paired with sound design by Peter Moller in a simplistic and comedic presentation with a personality of its own that complimented the other characters on that stage. I liked the equalizing nature of the playing area – as well as the smartly designed matching costumes – it allowed the audience to focus on the words and the story which was a much needed asset. The main character in this play was very clearly the script. The words held a lot of meaning which placed a lot of focus on the actors to interpret those words for the audience. With these four women, I think we’re in good hands.

Ellen Close plays Frankie, our main narrator leading us through her tumultuous life with wit, panic, and all the social graces of a twenty-something trying to live beyond her means. I found Ellen to be sweet and awkwardly charming – perfect for Frankie. This is a character that uses a lot of big words I’m not entirely sure she understands, and admires women of the past with all the modern conveniences of hindsight. I’m not here to write an essay on the intricacies of this woman, I simply found her endearing because of her faults. Ellen played an excellent constant to the other character’s ever changing personalities, giving them free range with her mind as the story goes on. Absolutely, tragically hilarious.

In fact, that’s how I would describe this entire experience at One Yellow Rabbit: Tragically Hilarious. Imagine spending an hour trying not laugh at someone else’s futile attempts at success. Schadenfreude at its best. 

The rest of the women absolutely lived up to their promise of contrary voices and unique perspectives. Georgina Beaty plays Thing One and the Ghost of Sylvia Plath; she was saucy, snooty, and inviting. Denise Clarke plays Thing Two and the Ghost of Anne Sexton; I found her smooth, dispirited, and sultry. Nadien Chu plays Thing Three and the Ghost of Virginia Woolf and she was sharp, animated, and articulated. 

I don’t have much to tell you about these three extraordinary women – not because there isn’t much to tell – but because I was so enraptured by their collective performance that I couldn’t pinpoint a single sentence to completely express my admiration for them. 

All four of these women blew me away. They represented incredible women in history with grace, humor, and integrity while also bringing a new perspective, a new comedic tragedy, and a touch of the absurd to this evening of entertainment.

I did not expect to enjoy myself the way I did; laughing at others’ obscure misfortunes and peering into their lives with the lens of a fifth-wave feminist grad student. I think the best part of this production is the discussion it creates by sitting as a witness. Beyond the incredible women, and the complementary lighting and sound, and the centralizing story, “All the Little Animals I Have Eaten” is a production that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

I urge you to head down to the Big Secret Theatre and engage in this fantastic story – but only until January 21st.