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A CurtainUp Review
Little Thing, Big Thing
By Ellen Mareneck
Although this might sound like the set up for the next Melissa McCarthy comedy, this darkly comic thriller from Dublin's Fishamble Company rapidly turns into a high-stakes adventure with global reach. The plot involves oil, corrupt officials (both African and Irish), grave abuses against the environment, and even murder.
The action unfolds with Sister Martha: a no-nonsense, middle-aged nun who is about to return to Ireland after completing a long mission in Nigeria. Shortly before her flight, a young Nigerian friend implores Sister Martha to carry a roll of film back to Dublin. The young woman instructs Martha to trust no one until she hands it to the designated recipient. Next, we meet Larry, an ex-con who wants to change his life but still owes debts to former criminal associates. To repay those debts, Larry must rob a convent of its pricey Virgin Mary statue.
The two characters meet in this abandoned abbey, where Larry saves Martha from the ex-military hit man who has followed her from Nigeria for the mysterious film roll. The actors seem rocket-fueled. They not only perform their lead roles with alacrity, but also deftly transform into 15 other characters over the course of the play. Fox and O'Kelly are nimble physical comics who use facial, vocal, and physical gestures to hilarious effect. Yet they are no less masterful at enacting powerful memory scenes and serious, suspenseful moments. They are so in tune with one another that it is like watching a pair of ballroom dancers and sometimes you don't know where one ends and the other begins.
Jim Culleton, the artistic director of Fishamble, must also be commended for his fine direction in staging stark and stirring images that stay with us like photographic replicas.John Comiskey's set and lighting design is minimal, and prison like. The entire action, which spans two continents and numerous locations, is performed within a semi-circle of chain-link fence, with two chairs as the only set pieces. The actors move within, under, up, around, and through the fence which serves as a reminder of the barriers that our protagonists face in reaching their goal.
As part of New York's 8th annual festival of Irish Theater, Little Thing, Big Thing calls attention to the inter-connectedness of industry, the environment, and people's well-being--whether those lives are lived in Nigeria, Ireland, or the United States. In a time of increasingly urgent migration crises and population shifts, the issues that once seemed limited and distant now become immense and pressing as they confront us at home. The play's jarring conclusion opens our eyes to the dire ends to which powerful people will go to keep seemingly "little things" like the murder of a Nigerian anti-drilling activist from becoming major scandals that expose the human and ecological costs of global business. In the end, the film roll also reveals a shocking secret that leaves us with the hope and promise of justice.