The Little Fellow, or, The Queen of Tarts Tells All
A more apt alternative might have been The Queen of Tarts Threatens to Tell All — it doesn’t flow as trippingly off the tongue, but it does have the advantage of describing the play’s actual drama: will she or won’t she? The “all” in question has to do with the paid dalliances between the Iron Duke of Wellington and one Harriet Wilson, aka The Little Fellow, aka, the Queen of Tarts, aka The Top of the Bottom. It’s that last title that gets her in trouble; at one point, Wilson has the chutzpah to declare, “I am not like other women,” and the conflict here really does stem from the wounded pride of a whore who feels she’s been wronged. (Who also feels the passage of time: brought into the trade at 13, she’s already had a good long run, and sagely notes that “there are no old whores.”) That her gentleman clients think it impossible to wrong a whore is made deliciously clear from the outset, when one of them advises against publishing, saying, “To make money off a man’s private little pleasures would be rather low,” as if that isn’t what she’s been doing all her life. That’s in the early going, when everyone is already enjoying the frank honesty that’s possible when all social niceties about morality have been cast aside like so many satin undergarments — “all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil,” as the poet puts it — but before things get desperate enough for all concerned that the conversation (and action) turns nasty. (One of my favorite things about Kate Hamill’s very smart — and very blue — script is the way everyone keeps punching, scoring palpable hits without ever quite managing a final KO.)
Keiko Green has the thankless task of starring, while the show’s other three actors take on the sundry other roles. It’s not that she’s not a commanding enough presence to hold the center; she is. (It’s no small thing to plead your dignity in your underwear.) It’s just that everyone else is left free to rack, rue, and rage about her with abandon, particularly MJ Sieber, who ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime to the downright sinister with astonishing aplomb.
Ongoing until Sunday, November 19, 2023