Off-Broadway Review: “Little Gem” at Irish Repertory Theatre

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  • David Roberts, Chief New York Critic, Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk Member

Over the period of a year, three generations of Irish women share their stories ad seriatim while in a medical office waiting room. Amber (a spitfire Lauren O’Leary) rehearses her life from taking her beau Paul to a wedding, to his abandoning her after discovering she is pregnant with his child. Amber’s “ma” Lorraine (a pensive and seemingly broken Brenda Meaney) shares the story of her anxiety, her need for psychotropic meds, and her developing relationship with “hairy” Niall. And Amber’s mom Kay’s (Marsha Mason) narrative spans detailing her angry itch “down there” to a hilarious sexual wakening, to the loss of her beloved husband Gem. Kay says she has spent most of her life in waiting rooms and playwright Elaine Murphy uses the waiting room as an apt metaphor for the often-unwelcome vicissitudes of life.

Over the course of six “scenes,” the women’s seemingly disparate monologues begin to first counterpoint then morph into a transformative trio that reaches its crescendo mid play and its resolution in the sixth “scene.” Themes of loneliness, anxiety, desperation, and despair are layered with themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance, and hope. The members of the cast deliver authentic performances and manage to transform their characters’ conflicts into a believable series of sub plots. Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing new in these stories and their too comfortable content makes the one-hundred minutes seem much longer.

Director Marc Atkinson Borrull skillfully brings the play’s characters into the same virtual space and time as they first deliver their monologues without recognition of the other actors sharing the waiting room, to delicate points of awareness through subtle glances, to actually existing in the same place at the same time after the old Gem’s death and the new Jaime’s birth.

Meredith Ries’s stark waiting room set allows the actors to develop their characters without distraction and Christopher Metzger’s costumes are appropriate and non-invasive. Michael O’Connor’s lighting needs to be tweaked so the actors are not left standing in darkness where and when there should be pools of light.

Despite the challenges of the script, the three fine actors transcend the material to offer glimpses into the often-undisclosed problems facing three generations of women caught in restrictive matrices of expectation and oppression. It was wonderful to see Marsha Mason’s craft coalesce the threads of the three women-in-waiting to a settling down to sleep and all that metaphor encompasses.

 

LITTLE GEM

The cast of “Little Gem” will include Marsha Mason Kay, Brenda Meaney as Lorraine, and Lauren O’Leary as Amber.

“Little Gem” will feature set design by Meredith Ries, costume design by Christopher Metzger, lighting design by Michael O’Connor, and sound design by Ryan Rumery. Arthur Atkinson serves as Production Stage Manager.

“Little Gem” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through September 1, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets to “Little Gem” range from $45.00 - $70.00 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Marsha Mason in “Little Gem.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.