Three Irish women, with familiar, well-told tales

(From right) Sarah Van Auken as Amber, Maureen Torsney-Weir as Kay, Corinna Burns as Lorraine in Inis Nua's production of "Little Gem."
(From right) Sarah Van Auken as Amber, Maureen Torsney-Weir as Kay, Corinna Burns as Lorraine in Inis Nua's production of "Little Gem." (KATIE REING)
Posted: February 10, 2012

Little Gem, Inis Nua Company's production of a new play by Elaine Murphy, is full of charm and sentiment and monologues and accents and working-class women who keep on keeping on. In other words, it's an Irish play.

Three accomplished actors give us three interesting portraits of three women, all of whom are defined by the men in their lives:

Lorraine (Corinna Burns) is a middle-aged woman who works in a store; she goes to see a "head doctor" who sympathetically touches her hand, making Lorraine realize that "I don't remember the last time somebody touched me or hugged me or even nudged me." Her drunk of a husband is long gone, but keeps turning up in repulsive, mawkish ways. When she is persuaded to go to a salsa dancing class, she meets Neil and she gradually, beautifully comes back to life.

Her daughter, Amber (Sarah Van Auken), is a teenager who, predictably enough, drinks too much and finds herself pregnant by a guy who leaves for Australia. Her character seems the least developed: too little information (does she go to school? Does she work? Who supports her? Why does she live on her own?). Her story is the least resolved - perhaps because she is just at the start of her life.

Lorraine's mother, Kay (the excellent Maureen Torsney-Weir), is married to Gem (short for James), who is the love of her life. But his illness has confined her to the house, and she struggles with needs she cannot solve ("I'm on the wrong side of 60 and I haven't had sex in over a year and it's killing me").

It should be obvious by these brief summaries that these are old, familiar stories, but the play makes them believable and moving and often funny - although it never rises to an idea: It's all domesticity. If Little Gem were shorter it would be even better, since the direct-address monologues keep adding what seem to be unnecessary chapters without adding any new dimension.

Director Kathryn MacMillan finds the solid center of femaleness of Little Gem and lets the actors, spotlit each in turn, speak from their own chairs in their own homes in Meghan Jones' tripartite set. They're good company.


Little Gem

Presented by Inis Nua Company at First Baptist Church, 17th and Sansom Streets, through Feb. 26. Tickets $20-$25. 215-454-9776 or http://inisnuatheatre.org.


Follow Toby Zinman on Twitter at #philastage. Read her reviews at www.philly.com/phillystage.

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