Diversionary Theatre has converted its old rehearsal space into an intimate blackbox theater. There are still some bugs to work out, sightlines in particular. But hey: any new performing space in San Diego’s a cause for celebration.
The inaugural show is InnerMission Productions’s first production of its first full season.
Madeline George’s Precious Little benefits from the intimate setting. It’s about words and life, how they sometimes fit, and often don’t. And how the least likely candidate, an old gorilla in the zoo, may be the most articulate.
Brodie, a 42-year-old linguist, specializes in dying languages. She says they enlarge our understanding of consciousness. When she speaks, she’s no “sugar-coater,” as her grad student/lesbian lover would testify, since they share the same vocabulary, at least for science.
Brodie is pregnant via artificial insemination. In one of the play’s most eloquent scenes, the doctor’s young assistant tries to explain that tests indicated a possible “ambiguity.” It might be nothing, or the child may be “mentally delayed.” Imagine being told the worst news of your life in words you can’t understand.
Brodie spins off-kilter. Now she must look at life not from scientific distance, but as an expectant mother whose child may, or may not, have an “error in cell division” that may or may not have caused a “genetic mix-up,” and may never be able to speak.
Precious Little is a quiet play. It starts slowly and, in a series of short scenes, builds — nay, weaves — gradually as language and reality jibe and collide. It’s one of those tap-you-on-the-shoulder plays that come together after the curtain comes down.
And you realize, for example, that when the old Russian woman speaks in her “dead” language, the words bring her back to life so well she becomes over-stimulated.
And the original doctor was “phasing out,” like a dying language, and left her neophyte with the burden of truth and technical terminology that’s all but dead to outsiders.
For InnerMission, under Carla Nell’s subtle direction, three actors play all the parts. Jennie Olson Six does some of her finest work. She begins as a master-linguist. Through always believable stages, she sheds views and habits, and even language itself.
Kathi Copeland plays both a real — and imaginary? — gorilla and the old Russian woman with impressive skill (especially how the old woman grows young again). Switching from one to the other in seconds is no mean feat either.
Versatile Jyl Kaneshiro plays everyone else and runs a gambit of emotions (and has costume designer Kym Pappas do the same) to good effect. As Brodie’s lover, Kaneshiro speaks the Author’s Message when Brodie tries to sugar coat their breaking up: “It hurts a lot less if you use your actual words.”
Shaun Tuazon-Martin’s set looks like a Freshman Comp. TA’s worst nightmare: pages and pages of writing stapled to the walls, some even hanging from a clothesline. Lit well by Chad Oakley (with the simple means available) the wall is both artistic and, in keeping with the playwright’s theme, a barrier.