Irish Repertory Theatre, Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage
132 West 22nd St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Through September 8, $50-$70
Three generations of women in a North Dublin family share their foibles and exert their fortitude in successive monologues in Marc Atkinson Borrull’s engaging if not quite sparkling revival of Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, running at the Irish Rep through September 8. First seen in the US at the Flea in 2010, the hundred-minute play begins with eighteen-year-old Amber (Lauren O’Leary), who enters a doctor’s office waiting room (the antiseptic set is by Meredith Ries) and talks about a night of partying at a high school ball with her best friend, Jo, involving drugs and alcohol, dancing, and her maybe-boyfriend, Paul. “Jo and me just did a line in the toilets. Feeling nice. The music is thumping in my chest. Unce, unce, unce. Like this fuzzy feeling, know exactly where I am but when I close my eyes I could be anywhere,” she says dreamily.
When she is done, her mother, Lorraine (Brenda Meaney), comes in and, while Amber watches her, discusses a strange occurrence at the store where she works that ends up with her having to speak with human resources. The “HR bird” asks her about her ill father. “She reaches across the desk and touches my hand. Don’t remember the last time someone touched me, hugged me, or even bleedin’ nudged me,” Lorraine admits to the audience.
And then Kay (Marsha Mason), Amber’s grandmother and Lorraine’s mother, walks in and, while the other two look at her, describes her vaginal itch and her ill husband, Gem, who she loves but calls a “cantankerous oul’ fuck.” She says, “I’m the wrong side of sixty, not dead. I haven’t had sex in well over a year and it’s killing me.” So off she goes to Ann Summers to purchase her very first vibrator.
Sex, significant others, loneliness, and the pains of life and death are the key themes as the trio of women continue alternating monologues. Amber becomes pregnant. Lorraine, who is divorced from Ray, goes on her first date ever with a man she met at a salsa dance class. And Kay tries to use her vibrator while worrying about Gem’s health. They meander across the stage, occasionally sitting down, as they open up about intimate details of their innermost fears and desires; while the youngest, Amber, has no filter, Lorraine is ready to burst out of her sheltered existence and Kay is a bit surprised by how brutally honest she is.
Everything about Murphy’s (Ribbons, Shush) first play is solid, from Borrull’s (Beginning, Outlying Islands) effective direction to the performances by four-time Oscar nominee Mason (The Goodbye Girl, Fire and Air), Meaney (Indian Ink, Incognito), and, in her off-Broadway debut, O’Leary (The Awkward Years), but Little Gem never quite grabs you as it should, falling just short of reaching the next level it aims for. Like life itself, it can be disappointing, but there are enough genuine moments to recommend it, even if it doesn’t glitter.