Smallone

May 2, 2010By Pierre TranArchive
litte gem, irish cultural center, paris

Sarah Greene, Anita Reeves and Amelia Crowley in Elaine Murphy’s “Little Gem,” one of the plays being featured in the Irish Cultural Center’s Theater Showcase.

Anyone who sees the way the character Mingey stands right at the opening of the play Smallone, performed last week at Paris’s Irish Culture Center, will have no …

litte gem, irish cultural center, paris

Sarah Greene, Anita Reeves and Amelia Crowley in Elaine Murphy’s “Little Gem,” one of the plays being featured in the Irish Cultural Center’s Theater Showcase.

Anyone who sees the way the character Mingey stands right at the opening of the play Smallone, performed last week at Paris’s Irish Culture Center, will have no doubt about the tenor of the piece.

Her silent stance, one arm held protectively across her body, speaks of a frail, sad figure, uncertain on her feet but still standing after a life battered by hard knocks.

Mingey’s straggly hair, tatty coat worn indoors and newspapers doing service for a carpet indicate a clapped-out existence. Here is someone in retreat from the world who finds her identity in memory. That is all she has to live for, besides lavishing affection on her seven wayward pet cats.

The talented Joan Sheehy plays Mingey and holds together the one-woman show Smallone, written by John Murphy and directed by Geoff Gould.

In more conventional typography, that would be “Small One,” as in “I’ll have a small one” when ordering a wee drink. “Small one” also refers to a child, and in this case, it is a story of a childhood of distress.

Alcohol is present from the start. At the opening, we hear abuse shouted offstage by a recorded voice and the sinister sound of shattering glass on the walls of Mingey’s house, no doubt beer bottles hurled by the neighborhood youth fresh from a sojourn in the corner pub.

Mingey’s reply is “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Of course the lines are delivered in an impeccable Irish accent, for Smallone is an authentic product of Irish culture.

Mingey refers to “Arthur” a couple of time, a cultural reference to that icon of Irishness, Arthur Guinness, founder of the company that makes the mighty drink of stout whose tins sport a harp, a hymn to its Gaelic origins.

Mingey tells her life story, one of domestic violence, hardship, courtship, love and loss. It is filled with sadness, and Sheehy does well to carry the whole tale on her own, with a few touches of humoristic detail that lighten the prevailing darkness.

I particularly liked the scene in which she describes a visit from the the local council’s social worker, whom she only lets in because she is dying for a taste of the orange-chocolate Club biscuit he offers her.

There are strains in Smallone of what the British newspapers have dubbed “misery memoirs,” the genre of writing launched by Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, which told of a rotten childhood of neglect in Limerick.

In Mingey, we have before us a life of quiet desperation, lived in the shadows as she digs out cat food from tins with her fingers, waiting for her cherished pets to come in from the hostile world outside.

Smallone, the first play in the center’s Theatre Showcase series, will be followed by three other Irish productions in English. Next up is Moby Dick (May 7-8), an adaptation of Melville’s novel, to be performed by Conor Lovett and directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett. Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, strongly recommended by The Guardian newspaper’s theater critic, will be performed on May 27, 28 and 29. Three women of different generations interact in the play, which stars Anita Reeves, Amelia Crowley and Sarah Green. The last piece in the series, Sean Millar’s Silver Stars (June 3, 4 and 5), a song cycle based on the lives of older Irish gay men, was a big hit at last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival.

The Irish Cultural Center is housed in a delightful building near the Pantheon with a beautiful airy courtyard, where playgoers can enjoy a drink and the evening air before the performance.

Pierre Tran

Centre Culturel Irlandais: 5, rue des Irlandais, 75005 Paris. Métro: Cardinal Lemoine. RER: Luxembourg. Tel.: 01 58 52 10 37. Free admission. Reservations are recommended (01 58 52 10 37 or e-mail). www.centreculturelirlandais.com

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