Little Gem – Family Ties and Knots

Produced live at Irish Rep in 2019. Now streamed April 27-May 9 2021

Hands down the best reason to see this production is Marsha Mason. Kay, a woman of a certain age, enters the doctor’s waiting room talking about “an itch down there” and sexual frustration due to her husband, Gem’s (James), incapacitation after a stroke. She loves the “cantankerous old fuck” deeply.

Her doctor has recommended buying a Rampant Rabbit which is exactly what it sounds like. Kay uncomfortably goes to check out the apparatus and is intimidated by its size and variant exertions. Offered a deluxe version, she suggests that one must do “the hoovering.” She exits with the less menacing Kermit. There’s no fourth wall. The anecdote is a prime example of nuanced acting/candid sharing.

Marsha Mason

Prior to Kay, we’ve shifted in our seats through an overly long monologue by young, vapid, hard-partying Amber (Lauren O’Leary, all technique no credibility) and then, middle-aged single mother/saleswoman, Lorraine (Brenda Meaney), provoked to tears by a manipulative customer and her own omnipresent depression.

Several monologues down the line, we realize these are three generations of the same family. Kay can’t imagine her life without the man that her life has revolved around since age 14.  Amber, Kay’s granddaughter, is accidentally pregnant by a young lout imminently moving to Australia. “I’m so fucked.” Her mother, Lorraine, dealing with the fallout of an addict ex-husband who took everything, is tenuously dating again. None of the women have let go of the men in their lives. None can change them.

Lauren O’Leary, Brenda Meany

All the lives are realistic. Crossovers increase as the play proceeds. At first, the women seem oblivious of one another, then, gradually, they turn and listen. Unfortunately, having no patience for the ill-depicted Amber comes close to taking out a third of the narrative.

Mason continues to be sympathetic, amusing, touching, and grounded. Brenda Meany gives us a tightly wound, believably struggling character. Encounters with a new man are surprised and tender. Relationships are well defined. The play would land better with about 15 minutes cut. Excess distracts.

Director Marc Atkinson Borrull gets two out of three women right, though awareness of one another is a bit amorphous.

Photos by Carol Rosegg

Opening: Marsha Mason (Kay), Lauren O’Leary (Amber), Brenda Meaney (Lorraine) Little Gem by Elaine Murphy
Directed by Marc Atkinson Borrull


About Alix Cohen (1081 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.