Precious Little

Also see Ann's review of Circle Mirror Transformation

Theo Allyn, left, Kelly McAndrew and
Laurie Klatscher

A forty-two year-old accomplished linguist is pregnant, and faced with a choice when an abnormality is detected; her child may not be able to speak. A gorilla, on display at a zoo, has been the subject of a study to teach words to apes. An old woman takes part in the preservation of her native, dying language. In Precious Little, playwright Madeleine George has connected these three scenarios and leaves us to conclude what the connections mean.

Brodie (Kelly McAndrew) has been on a career fast-track, but she is ready to be a mother. She does not seem to be interested in parenting with a partner, but will go it alone. At her age, amniocentesis is standard, and the test usually gives parents the assurance that all is well. But in Brodie's case, the test reveals an ambiguous chromosomal abnormality—the baby may be fine, may have mild mental and physical challenges, or the problems may be significant. The genetic counselors cannot tell her exactly which scenario is even most likely, and Brodie must decide whether or not to have an abortion. She is also conducting a study of the (fictional) Kari language by recording Cleva (Laurie Klatscher) speaking the words and phrases she used in her youth. Cleva is a willing participant and becomes very involved. Grad student, and Brodie's lover, Dre (Theo Allyn) takes Brody to the zoo to observe an ape (Klatscher) who has been taught to recognize a few English words. Brodie is initially uninterested, but soon becomes fascinated.

McAndrew is perfectly cast as Brodie, presenting the scientist's intellect, insecurities, independence and wry humor. She illuminates the more subtle connections in this play, particularly near the end with Klatscher portraying the ape, with just the right balance—not so far as to make us laugh (kudos to the actress and to director Tracy Brigden for treading softly here). Allyn is stretched a little thin with her multiple roles, but they fit her well. The group is a fine ensemble.

Though I see the similarities, and the play does give one a lot to think about on the way home, I'm a bit frustrated by the concentration on the possible speech problems of Brodie's baby. The trisomy (extra chromosome) could result in a number of challenging mental and physical problems. Linguistics is Brodie's life, but it seems to me most people would be thinking about the broader picture here, which involves much more difficult things to deal with than the child not being able to speak.

This is a very fast-paced show, clocking in at 75 minutes, with numerous and rapid scene changes on Anne Mundell's functional set. The dialogue is smart and humorous in a real-word way, and little time is wasted (though I didn't think we needed to be shown so much about how children act in front of an ape-house window). It may take a few minutes to digest before you start contemplating, but George has outlined for us an interesting situation.

Precious Little continues at City Theatre through April 3. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit

Photo: Suellen Fitzsimmons

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-- Ann Miner

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