… the three ages of woman …

In Little Gem, three women — brilliant actors all — face the audience to recount their characters’ personal stories.  In this the play reminds me of Journeys, produced in New York a little over a year ago (reviewed by me here), though in Journeys the seven stories are united only by the theme of the women’s struggles for human rights in seven countries.  In Little Gem the uniting factor is that they are of one, modest Dublin family, though you don’t know that right away.  As they take turns speaking, the spotlight shifting from one to another, we learn that they are daughter, mother, grandmother, their individual dramatic monologs blending like streams into a river into one narrative.

We meet Lorraine as a mousy, cautious, compulsive woman called up to the office of the retail establishment where she works to explain her recent agitation (caused by concern over her ailing father) which led to an altercation with a customer.  Rather than take “time off,” she’s gently shoved toward meetings with a therapist who prescribes, “do one nice thing for yourself this week”  —  and does she ever!  Amber, Lorraine’s teenage daughter, the opposite of her mother, is adorably pretty, lives for the moment, and loves partying and her boyfriend, who deserts her just as she becomes pregnant.  The mother of the family, Kaye, warm and humorous, eternally in love with her husband, “Gem” (from James), is positively itchy from sexual frustration because of a lack of action since his heart attack over a year ago which left him hazardously frail.  That all three are lusty women gives a particular strength and interest to what could be a rather sentimental play.  We never actually meet Gem or any of the men so central in the lives of these women but we sure hear about them.

How unusual for a contemporary play that these are not “career women,” though they can hold a job.  These women aren’t engaged in the world at large, and don’t miss it;  the value of their lives is determined by their loving relationships.  And things tie up nicely.  For Lorraine, that “one nice thing for herself” a week becomes another … and another .. if only therapy was always so successful!  The experience of having the baby boy, named “Little Gem” after her grandfather, brings Amber to a joyous sense of responsibility — there’s even a hint that the boyfriend may return.  Kay loses her husband to natural causes but her grief is somewhat buffered by the life-affirming love she shared with him, and the ongoing love of her daughter and granddaughter.

What makes this play a “little gem” worth getting to the Flea Theatre to see during its short run is the marvelous acting: Anita Reeves as Kay, Hilda Fay as Lorraine, and Sarah Greene as Amber.  They are all in terms of their own characters hilarious and touching.

Little Gem plays at the Flea Theatre in NYC’s Tribeca through January 16.

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