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A CurtainUp Review
Little Gem

I've an itch, down there, Seem to spend most of my life in waiting room and here I am again, after swallowing every tablet, trying every cream and changing my washing powder that many times I've run out of brands. — Kay
Little Gem
Marsha Mason, Lauren O'Leary & Brenda Meaney (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Whatever it was in my by-heat-addled head that said I should brave the torrid temperature last Sunday and head for the Irish Repertory didn't steer me wrong. This early play by local writer Elaine Murphy is small in scale — three members of the same Dublin family connected through monologues — but made larger by their prickly prose and their generational connection.

Amber (Lauren O'Leary), a savvy and sassy nineteen year-old is mainly concerned with having a good time with her friends and downing sambucas. There is, however, a persistent pain in her belly that troubles her, and it isn't indigestion. But she has nothing on her mother Lorraine (Brenda Meaney), whose day job triggers a rage in her as well as a pain in her head serious enough to be sent to the company shrink. Can she find relief and romance at a salsa class? When it comes to finding relief, her mother Kay (Marsha Mason) looks forward to private time with a little gismo she calls her "alien" when taking a break from caring for husband, a victim of a stroke ten years ago.

Far be it for a New York-ear to admit to a few occasions when he didn't fully fathom some of Amber's Irish-ized lingo. But like me you will have to control your laughter as Kay shares her more intimate moments and then hold back your tears as she talk about the one great love of her life. "I'm the wrong side of sixty, not dead,"she says and still aware of that itch "down there."And can sex find its way back into Lorraine's life now that she has locked her alcoholic husband out of the house?

What is really so special about these three endearingly ordinary women? The answer is that playwright Murphy has given them that gift of Gallic gab and unfettered flair for confessing out loud that distills their mostly unremarkable lives and their feelings into something that becomes eminently touching over the course of this one-act play.

We become a party to the major events in their lives over the course of a year and specifically dealing with the temptations and tribulations they endure that also include a birth and a funeral. They engage us even as they define themselves to themselves and to each other. Under Marc Atkinson Borrull's gentle direction, we see them all on the stage together. But each moves to a corner as the other has her say in the functional setting designed by Meredith Ries to suggest a doctor's waiting room.

It is always a treat to see acclaimed film and stage actress Marsha Mason do what she does so well. She can add Kay to her collection of beautifully defined characters. Brenda Meaney brings a wonderfully feisty edge to the romance-deferred Lorraine. It's also great fun to see how winningly Lauren O'Leary affords a growing maturity to Amber's wild side.

For sure, Murphy guides her fictional characters through the play with a prescribed sentimentality but it rings true to life in a very engaging way. The progression of time for these three is charged by their irrepressible honesty and through unapologetically personal feelings, many of which are consigned to overlap the needs and longing of the other. The title of the play may be a spoiler alert, but there is nothing else about Elaine Murphy's first produced play (Dublin Fringe Festival in 2008) inclined to spoil the pleasure of its company.

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Little Gem by Elaine Murphy
Directed by Marc Atkinson Borrull
Cast: Marsha Mason (Kay), Brenda Meaney (Lorraine), Lauren O'Leary (Amber)
Scenic Design: Meredith Ries
Costume Design: Christopher Metzger
Lighting Design: Michael O'Connor
Sound Design: Ryan Rumery
Properties: Sven Henry Nelson
Dialect Consultant: Stephen Gabis
Production Stage Manager: Arthur Atkinson
Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca C. Monroe
Running Time 1 hour 40 minutes no intermission
Tickets: $45 - $70
212-727-2737 or online at
Performances: Wednesdays at 3pm and 8pm; Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm. From 07/17/19
Opened 07/25/19 Ends 09/01/19
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 07/21/19

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