Little Gem

Robin Walsh, Hayley Nielsen and
Cary Anne Spear

Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons
Elaine Murphy is a massive storyteller. "Massive" meaning "brilliant"—as listed with other other "Dublin slang" in the program dictionary, and used in Murphy's dear, engaging play Little Gem. The slang is mostly put to use by the character Amanda (Hayley Nielsen), a bit of a party girl and the youngest of three generations of women depicted in the story. She is just finding her way into womanhood when life takes a sharp turn. Her mother Lorraine (Robin Walsh) has lived through her sharp turn, abandonment by her very troubled husband, and she is just now learning to live for herself. And her mother Kay (Cary Anne Spear), Amanda's grandmother, has had a long, happy marriage, but her husband (the unseen big Gem, or James) has had a stroke and she is preparing to be alone.

That's the simple outline of Little Gem. The details, provided by Murphy, unveiled exquisitely by director Kimberly Senior's staging, and skillfully illuminated through enchanting performances, are pretty simple, too. In a way, these three women are not particularly exceptional; they are strong and good, but their challenges are similar to those faced by millions of people. That's why we can connect with them—they are real and, while they are just trying to cope with what they've been given, they find they do much better than just coping.

Senior has her actors individually presenting segments of their lives directly to the audience, one at a time, with little overlapping. It's not a unique approach, but it works quite well, as we quickly become anxious to hear what comes next. Nielsen, Walsh and Spear establsh character immediately, and the accents are spot-on (thank you Dialect Coach Don Wadsworth). Reading the slang dictionary will add color, but the context most often makes the intent clear.

This is not really a "women's play," any more than the works of other Irish playwrights featuring men are "men's plays." It's a story of dependence and independence, of rebounding and persevering. It's also fresh and funny.

Little Gem through May 5 and City Theatre. For ticket and performance information, call or visit

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-- Ann Miner

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