The theme that holds together Madeleine George’s somewhat disparate plot in Precious Little is language. Brodie the protagonist, a linguist beautifully played by Lee Mikeska, has devoted her life to finding and preserving disappearing languages. When the play opens she is forty-two and realizes that in the process of building her academic career has let the personal side of her life slip. An unmarried lesbian who is feeling middle age encroaching, she made the decision to be artificially inseminated. Because of her age she undergoes amniocentesis to determine if all is right with her pregnancy. The results point toward retardation but are inconclusive. Part of the play revolves around Brodie reaching the decision to keep the baby, although she does not discuss abortion.
While this does not seem the stuff of comedy, it is a funny play. Brodie has a dry sense of humor which gets lots of laughs. Most of the drollery is derived from the multiple roles played by the other two actresses. Karoline Xu has the most challenging job in this respect, quickly changing back and forth from Brodie’s student lover to an inexperienced medical technician, a mother at the zoo and both her children, as well as the daughter of a woman who grew up speaking what is now an endangered language that Brodie is trying to preserve. Nancy E. Carroll is moving as Cleva, the frail old woman who recalls not only her native tongue, but the sad events of her childhood and is strangely believable as a Coco-like gorilla, who had been trained to understand some English, but is ending her life in a zoo. Brodie, fearful of giving birth to a child who may not speak, spends time at the zoo studying the animal to learn what it understands. Carroll’s physicality as the gorilla is authentic. Both the old woman and the gorilla as Carroll enacts them have more in common onstage than they would have on the page. Carroll also has two scenes as the technician’s mentor.
The language Brodie is endeavoring to save was created by the dramatist Madeleine George for the scenes with the old woman and we are told is related most closely to Finno-Ugric and influenced by Slavic and Turkic languages. Madeleine George studied linguistics in college.
With its three actresses, it is an intimate production performed in the small three quarter round auditorium at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Judy Gailen’s setting is sparse, but functional consisting of a table, two chairs, a coat rack and a large chaise longue where the gorilla spends most of its time. Nathan Leigh’s effective sound design includes the beating of the fetus’s heart and the gorilla’s musings of a happier life. Director Melia Bensussen’s pacing is spot on.
Precious Little presented by the Nora Theatre Company Cambridge Massachusetts is a Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production. These productions bring together artists and scientists to present plays with the objective of making science and technology more accessible to the theatre public.
Precious Little continues at the Central Square Theatre through March 26, 2017.
Playwright ……………. Madeleine George
Director ………………. Melissa Bensussen
Scenic Design ………… Judy Agailen
Costume Design ………. Elizabeth Rocha
Lighting Design ……… Wen-Ling Liao
Sound Design ………… Nathan Leigh
Nancy E. Carroll, Lee Mikeska Gardner, Karoline Xu