If you’re looking for something fun and edgy to watch this weekend, look no further than Little One currently playing at Live! On Elgin until this coming Saturday. This dark and sometimes sinister production carries a lot of emotional depth, not to mention some fantastic performances that will keep your eyes glued to the stage. Presented by an experienced team of local artists and producers from around the community, Little One proves that a strong team can make for some equally strong theatre.
Little One, written by local legend Hannah Moscovitch, is a psychological thriller that revolves around siblings Aaron and Claire who are brought together by a rather unfortunate event that involved Aaron’s family adopting Claire after finding her as a young child seriously traumatized in an abandoned house. Determined to give Claire the proper support necessary for any individual in her situation, Aaron’s parents come to rely heavily on him to set a good example for his clearly deranged sister- a responsibility which he eventually comes to resent Claire for. Mirroring this story is that of their neighbours: the portly IT guy and his Japanese mail order bride whom he refers to as “Kitty” (because of her Hello Kitty suitcase, get it?), who are also trying to maintain a sense of normalcy through their constant pursuit of the suburban dream. The text, while focusing a lot on mental health and how we both deal with it and deflect it, comments on the concept of ‘normal’ and what that might look like from an outside perspective. It also encourages the audience to ask themselves if ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ are mutually exclusive concepts or can “abnormal” individuals, for example, maintain healthy and meaningful relationships? While I won’t spoil the whole plot for you, I will say: while we are told on a nearly constant basis that Claire is a “monster”, by the end of the play you’ll see that she’s certainly not the only one.
Directed by Lydia Talajic with performers Samuel Dietrich and Lydia Riding, this production is a snappy little two-hander pared down to its bare essentials. With only an old wooden sewing desk occupying the centre stage, Tristan-Olivier Breidin’s lights and Phil Caunter’s sound design become the prime tools for creating the mood and the atmosphere on stage. The audio recording of Claire saying “I love you”, for example, is edited together really well and is very effective at creating this haunting (but also emotionally genuine?) soundscape that closes out the show. The desk, on the other hand, feels quite heavy to be stuck centre stage for the entire duration of the play: I understand the convenience of having multiple drawers to hide stage props in, but the power of two actors on stage creating tension through bodily proximity often gets overlooked in this sense. Centre stage is, traditionally, a position of absolute power for a performer, so to have it taken up by an inanimate object (that also doesn’t provide any metaphorical resonance) feels a bit like a missed opportunity.
Let me extrapolate here: Deitrich and Riding are excellent performers. And together, they often create magic on stage given their past experiences working together (shout out to U of O’s If We Were Birds cast!). While they both handle the material like seasoned pros (and let’s be serious here, these two performers are more than a little familiar with non-traditional forms of dramaturgy and if you saw Pamela Feghali’s production of pool no water a couple years back, you know exactly what I’m talking about), I feel like they could be pushed even further in this production. Narrative-wise, both performers deliver the text in a way that is certainly engaging, however, the desk being stuck dead centre sometimes makes the piece a little less than exciting to watch since a lot of the stage blocking appears encapsulated in a one foot radius around the desk.
That being said, I am forced to be a bit nit-picky here given that the production is really quite solid overall. Dietrich as big-brother Aaron does a good job of leading his viewers into a false sense of security that makes his ultimate reveal a touch more shocking, yet we never feel as though he is driven by malice. Riding as the troubled Claire strikes an incredible balance between lucidity and being completely unhinged. Since she has had experience in these types of roles, I’m really not surprised- by constantly practicing and perfecting these character types she carves out a place for herself in this community as a bonafide dramatic actor.
It’s unfortunate that this show has such a short run time, since this is a production that would only benefit from the momentum of a full-fledged week-long run, so I don’t recommend missing it while it’s here. It’s always refreshing to see a production that’s stripped down to only its most necessary basics and still be able to produce an engaging and thought-provoking piece of theatre. Only playing until March 24th, you can catch Little One at Live! On Elgin- ticket info can be found here.
Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Lydia Talajic
Featuring Samuel Dietrich and Lydia Ryding
Associate Producer: Amanda Logan
Stage Manager: Franco Pang
Lighting Design: Tristan-Olivier Breidin
Sound Design: Phil Caunter