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Little Thing, Big Thing

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Donal O'Kelly and Sorcha Fox
Photo by Pat Redmond

The time-honored art of theatrical storytelling is in excellent hands in the Fishamble: The New Play Company production of Little Thing, Big Thing, part of the 1st Irish Festival at 59E59 Theaters. The play, written by and co-starring Donal O'Kelly, relates the story of Larry, a two-bit thief who falls into a whirlpool of intrigue involving an old roll of film held by Sister Martha (Sorcha Fox), a tough cookie of a nun on an urgent mission that has brought her to Ireland from Nigeria.

Little Thing, Big Thing begins with a bang of exposition that sets things off at a fast clip —so fast, in fact, that you may just have to grab hold, pay attention, and catch up later (with both the plot and the strong Irish accents). But the little extra effort pays off handsomely as, bit by bit, the pieces fall into place, and every coincidence and happenstance becomes an essential plot element.

Sister Martha has agreed to smuggle out the undeveloped film and pass it along to an acquaintance on the lam in Dublin ever since his brother went missing under suspicious circumstances back in Nigeria. The film contains incriminating evidence about a murder and the complicity of a corrupt global oil executive and a high-ranking Nigerian military officer. The nun and Larry meet up when they both hide in the same closet from an armed intruder at Sister Martha's home convent. (Larry is there to steal a statue of the Virgin Mary, "the Assumption in reverse," he calls it.). In two shakes of a tail, they have joined forces and the chase is on as the pair flees their pursuers, who are bent on destroying the film and anyone who stands in their way.

In its pacing, and with its wonderful mix of suspense, eccentric comedy, and tender moments, Little Thing, Big Thing may remind you of The 39 Steps, both the Alfred Hitchcock movie and the more recent theatrical production. The roll of film is what Hitchcock would term a "MacGuffin," the plot device that serves as an excuse to set the story moving and the characters scrambling to stay ahead of their would-be killers, in this case across John Comiskey's minimalist set.

As in the stage version of The 39 Steps, Mr. O'Kelly and Ms. Fox portray multiple characters —17 between them. But there is no silliness involved in the quick changes, no wigs or costumes or shadow play. The characters are simply necessary for the plot, and the actors take them on as needed, using their voices and facial expressions to keep us apprised.

This is emblematic of the power of this production. Between Mr. O'Kelly's very skillful writing and his and Ms. Fox's terrific performances under Jim Culleton's direction, Little Thing, Big Thing grabs hold at the start and never lets go, a real treat for anyone who has ever been enthralled by the ability of language and impeccable acting to touch the mind and the heart. We grow quite fond of Larry and Sister Martha over the course of the evening, and we can only wish them Godspeed as they strive to fulfill their mission of justice against those who would destroy them.

Little Thing, Big Thing
Through September 27
59E59 Theaters - Theater B, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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