The big lesson I take away from Small Creatures Such as We is that when it comes to creating a new play dealing with emotionally traumatic events, it’s that less is more.
Small Creatures tells the story of Kit and Joanna as they meet for the first time in years, having had a turbulent relationship during their teen years. This alternates with flashbacks to those very teen years, where Kit is a troublesome urchin and Joanna is an impossibly Godly Catholic girl whose faith is both the source and the balm of the relentless bullying she endures.
You would think that a show that depicts two characters meeting for the first time where one of them says “I was born with six fingers on my right hand!” almost right off the bat with absolutely no provocation would have that character be little unhinged, but instead it’s apparently endearing and Kit and Joanna enter into a friendship with… consequences.
When I say ‘less is more,’ I mean that most memory plays that flash back to a traumatic event in the past flash back to only one traumatic event, and explore its angles and ramifications in a full way that allows for the total horror of the event to be revealed to its audience. The characters of Small Creatures however seem to inhabit a world where they occur about as often as sneezes: Joanna is bullied relentlessly but is also violated by female classmates in an act of unspeakable cruelty, becomes pregnant at 14 and is forced to carry through with the pregnancy because of her Catholic faith; Kit is a stereotypical juvenile delinquent (who makes enough references to “getting my dick sucked” that it sticks out oddly from his other lines) but he also has to deal with parents in an abusive relationship, generates revenge porn for Joanna’s female attackers that is so successful it causes one of them to attempt suicide, and is also the one to get Joanna pregnant, so mostly he just feels really guilty, guys.
There’s a concerning sort of double standard here: Kit and Joanna seem to be presented as being on an equal footing as far as emotional damage goes, but Joanna genuinely has had her life ruined through her immature pregnancy while Kit goes on to become a successful and famous actor while hiding his shame. I get that guilt is a destructive force, but it’s really hard to feel any sort of sympathy for the character who himself is a destructive force when he gets everything he wanted and the girl he left behind can’t even take solace in religion anymore.
The writing is not strong, and unfortunately the acting isn’t either: as Kit, Vishesh Abeyratne mostly yells his lines (which makes it difficult for him to increase his wrath or frustration throughout scenes), but in serious moments he also exhales before speaking, which is not only a waste of breath but has the consequence of making you sound like you know what you’re saying is ridiculous. Meagan McDonald mostly exists in her own world as Joanna, which makes sense given her social isolation but also manifests as pointless stage business where she ignores Kit by ‘baking’ (pouring baking soda from one measuring cup into another).
There’s enough material in Small Creatures Such as We for a few plays, and I’d be interested to see it in a more pared-down form.
Small Creatures Such as We
An Angel in the Rafters production
Created and Performed by Meagan McDonald and Vishesh Abeyratne
At Academic Hall