Three generations of women navigate life, love & those feelings “down there” in TIP’s hilarious, poignant, intimate Little Gem

Top to bottom: Rebecca De La Cour, Barbara Taylor & Billie Jean Shannon. Photo by Sean Walsh.

The Toronto Irish Players (TIP) opened their production of Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, directed by Cliona Kenny, on the Alumnae Theatre Mainstage to a packed house last night.

Drawing from the old tradition of the Gaelic storyteller (the Seanachai), Little Gem’s commentator device uses a Trinitarian approach—in this case, the story is told from the perspectives of three women: a granddaughter, a mother and grandmother from the same family.

Set in present-day Dublin, we open on Amber’s (Billie Jean Shannon) tale of the fateful night of her Debs (a city-wide high school prom), and the complex emotional dance of relationships with her boyfriend Paul and school teach-like bff Jo. Then, there’s her mother Lorraine (Rebecca De La Cour), a single mom, husband Ray long gone to who knows where, who works in a department store. She’s been forced to go on leave and see a shrink after she loses it on an extremely annoying and vindictive regular customer. And there’s Kay, Lorraine’s ma (Barbara Taylor), a breast cancer survivor and 24/7 caregiver to her husband Gem, struggling with an itch of her own.

Lovely, compelling—and endearingly comical—work from these three actors; each bringing her own brand of outspoken cheek, feistiness and strength to these characters. Shannon gives us a youthful, impetuous, and keen sense of social awareness and observation to Amber. Mouthy and full of teen sass and mortification, Amber’s a master at projecting an image of giving zero fucks, but there’s a tender, loving heart there that also longs to be loved. De La Cour brings a desperate housewife, poignant sense of resiliency to Lorraine. An anxious, exhausted member of the sandwich generation, Lorraine struggles to communicate with her distant teenage daughter, and worries about the well-being of her aging mother and seriously ill father; and she finds that she can’t stress clean away her own sense of loneliness and lack of a definitive life of her own. Taylor is a laugh riot and a force to be reckoned with as the family matriarch. Now in the winter years of life, there’s heat in that tired 60-something body yet—and Kay’s stubborn sense of resolve overcomes any sense of pride or shame as she actively, and at times hilariously, seeks solutions to her problems. Eschewing spoilers, I’ll have to leave it at that—and you’ll have to go see for yourself.

Life goes on for these three women; and unexpected events change the course of the day-to-day, forcing challenging decisions, personal growth, and acts of strength and courage. And, in the process, the lives of these three women—living separately together—are brought together into new and closer bonds of family and womanhood.

Nicely staged, on an effective and minimalist set featuring beautifully rendered charcoal family portraits (set by Bernadette Hunt and Sean Treacy), each character has her own playing area, with each storyteller staying within her own space until these inextricably intertwined lives gradually come closer together during the final scenes.

Three generations of women navigate life, love and those feelings “down there” in TIP’s hilarious, poignant, intimate Little Gem.

Little Gem continues on the Alumnae Theatre Mainstage until March 3; advance tickets available online or by calling 416-440-2888. The Irish Players are an extremely popular local community company, so advance booking strongly recommended.

And no worries about thinking this is a “chick play,” the men were laughing as hard as the women. Having said that, it also struck me that, even though Mother’s Day is some months away, this is the perfect girls’ night out for women, their moms and grandmothers.


Secrets, schemes & stamps in sharp & darkly funny Mauritius

Philip, Dennis, Jackie
Derek Perks (foreground), with Douglas Tindal & Rebecca De La Cour in Mauritius – photo by Bill Michelson

Sometimes a stamp isn’t just a stamp.

A pair of rare postage stamps becomes a catalyst for hopes, dreams and desires in The Village Players’ production of Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius, directed by Michael Hiller, which opened at the Village Playhouse last night.

Estranged step-sisters Jackie (Rebecca De La Cour) and Mary (Tina McCulloch) are reunited following the death of their mother, and discover Mary’s grandfather’s stamp collection as they sort through their mother’s things. The two have very different perspectives of both the stamps’ ownership and destiny. When Rebecca’s attempt to get the stamps appraised is rebuffed by the owner/operator of Phil’s stamp shop (Douglas Tindal), Phil’s friend Dennis (Derek Perks) comes to her assistance. He finds the collection extremely interesting – interesting enough to contact the wealthy and shady Sterling (Robert Woodcock), an extreme stamp aficionado, to broker a deal.

Dennis, Sterling sm
Derek Perks & Robert Woodcock – photo by Bill Michelson

The Mauritius script has a Walker meets Mamet flavour – and the cast does an effing nice job of it. Tindal is dishevelled and Sphinx-like as stamp expert Phil; his shop, like its owner, is frozen in time (somewhere around the 70s) and understated in its seediness (set by Nadia Dziubaniwsky). Perks is delightfully wiry and wily as the fast-talking, likeable scoundrel Dennis; a smooth operator, and adept at sizing up people and situations, there’s more to Dennis than meets the eye. De La Cour’s Jackie is a tough cookie; assertive and brave, yet full of hurt and longing – and grasping at hope – under that brash exterior. Woodcock is a remarkable presence as Sterling; physically, psychologically and intellectually menacing, with a soft underbelly invoked by the stamps, his object of obsession and desire. And McCulloch brings some nice, complex layers of propriety, nostalgia and fierceness to Mary, who is deeply conflicted within her family dynamic and personal attachment to her grandfather’s stamp collection.

Mary, Jackie sm
Tina McCulloch & Rebecca De La Cour – photo by Bill Michelson

Each character’s response to the stamps reveals what he/she values: money, freedom, history, possession and legacy.

Secrets, schemes and stamps in The Village Players’ sharp and darkly funny Mauritius.

Mauritius continues at the Village until Jan 30; show dates/times and ticket info here. You can keep up with the Village Players’ goings-on on Twitter and Facebook.