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A CurtainUp DC LogoReview
The Small Things

Seems strange I would stop talking to the knickknacks.— Woman

Small Things
Chris Davenport and Kate Debelack (Photo: C. Stanley )
Solas Nua continues its second season with the U.S. premiere of Irish playwright Enda Walsh's The Small Things. Currently being staged at Flashpoint's blackbox performance venue, Mr. Walsh's play is a horror story in the vein of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. And like Ms. Jackson's use of timing and rural setting, Mr. Walsh places his story in a bucolic English countryside that hides an evil malevolence. Choosing two innocents as his narrators, he then develops a plot that toys with words like a chef making taffy -- pulling and stretching the narrative to see how gentle descriptions can create horrific images.

The narrators -- Man and Woman -- are adults sharing their common story in an ongoing dialogue which leaves you shaken and feeling assaulted in its violent bizarreness. Yet at the same time you keep listening to the unfolding story, transfixed by its poetic ebb and flow as it reaches its broken hearted conclusion.

Director Kathleen Akerley has chosen two wonderful actors for this endeavor which would completely sink with less talented people in the roles. Between she, Chris Davenport and Kate Debelack, the timing of the show is gentle, yet jarring. It's slow escalation catches you off guard as you begin to realize where the story is heading. Yet, still, the poetic aspects of the language keep you listening.

Mr. Davenport begins the dialogue as he seemingly speaks to no one, while Ms. Debelack tinkers with porcelain knickknacks on a table. Then at alternating times, Ms. Debelack picks up the story as Mr. Davenport sits in his armchair (where he remains for almost the entire performance) anxiously holding a clock.

Their conversation courses along as they share scenes from their childhoods, family memories, how they met, their blossoming friendship and how their little village was ravaged by two cruel men -- one of whom happened to be her insane father. And from their conversation, we see how this moment in their lives has shaped their entire existence -- chasing them indoors, binding them to a stifling routine and keeping them cowering in fear of their trauma.

The setting for the play can be confusing as it's not until almost two thirds through the performance that you realize the two people are not in the same house. Instead they are speaking through time and space, years have passed since they last saw each other and neither has ever gotten over the tragic experience of their past when violence suddenly erupted in their small hamlet. Thus each will occasionally stop to ask, almost pleadingly, "Are you still listening to me?"

Like his previous works, Mr. Walsh demands that you focus intently to his story, otherwise you will become lost in its opaque vagueness. However, by the end, while you may not understand every aspect of the play you do leave the theatre feeling emotionally drained and reeling from the intenseness of Mr. Davenport's and Ms. Debelack's performances.

All that said, this is obviously not a play for everyone. Just as Ms. Jackson's short story was not appreciated by many of its readers when it first appeared in The New Yorker, The Small Things can leave you scratching your head wondering "Why did I need to see this?" If you are someone who enjoys a basic level of exposition in your theatre -- or if you dislike abstract, raw emotionality without context -- then you won't be mesmerized. However, if you liked Mr. Walsh's Disco Pigs, Misterman or Bedbound, savor a good horror story, or find language and its poetic nature stimulating — you've found your play.

The Small Things
by Enda Walsh
Directed by Kathleen Akerley
with Chris Davenport and Kate Debelack
Set Design: Phil Duarte
Lighting Design: Marianne Meadows
Sound Design: Chris Pifer
Costume Design: Lynly Saunders
Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission
A production of Solas Nua
The Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G Street NW, Washington DC
Telephone: 1-800-494-TIXS
THU - SAT @8, SUN @3; $15-$20
Opening 01/31/07, closing 02/25/07
Reviewed by Rich See based on 02/04/07 performance
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