February 20, 2011

Can’t Find the Words

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A character from the play Precious Little quips, “You hurt people less when you use the right words.” Come to think of it, what are the right words? Do you always have the appropriate vocabulary to articulate what you really feel within? Do you sometimes feel powerless to speak? Or perhaps occasionally, when the moment’s right, do words cascade from your mouth with unrestrained ease, each noun and verb effortlessly spot-on?Precious Little, a play currently running at the Schwartz Center of the Performing Arts, sheds light on these timeless issues of what makes language powerful and limitless, yet distant and finite at the same time. Continuing the Cornell Playwright’s Project, which is dedicated to producing the plays of Cornell alumni, this production of Precious Little brings together the profoundly enduring work of Madeleine George ’96, the inventively mature direction of Myles Kenyon Rowland ’11 (a theatre arts major) and the delightfully nuanced performances of six of Cornell’s most promising theater talents. Sarah Chalmers, Alessandra Hirsch ’12, Kit Lyman ’11, Julie Reed ‘12 and Sharisse Taylor ’11 each play characters whose interactions with the central protagonist, played by the charming Bridget Saracino, forces her to assess the beauty and the limits of the human language.In the play, Brodie (played by Saracino) is an aging linguist who learns of the unsettling possibility that her yet-to-be-borne baby might be suffering a genetic disorder, which could prevent her baby from ever learning language. As she negotiates the dilemma of whether to keep her baby, she seeks solace from the most unlikely confidants: an elderly speaker of a vanishing language she is studying … and a gorilla at the zoo.Despite exploring the relatively ponderous issues of genetic counseling and the revitalization of dying languages, the treatment of the script is light-hearted and tugs at many a heartstring. “College students will relate to the difficulty of maintaining relationships when struggling with their own personal issues,” said Taylor, a Cornell senior who plays the part of Dre. “That’s something that definitely spoke to me while working on this play.” Indeed, one will be pleasantly surprised at how relatable these potentially heavy-handed themes are, aided no less by familiar references to Mario Batali, Venti Starbucks coffee and well … gorillas eating popcorn.Kudos goes to Sarah Chalmers, who morphed comfortably and skillfully between an omniscient senior genetic counselor, a slightly demented speaker of the languishing Kari language and an ape at the zoo. Besides her sleek physical portrayal of the primate, she embodied a mysterious quality that made her repulsive yet alluring, and was an utter pleasure to watch for the entire one hour and fifteen minutes of the play. Kit Lyman, as a robotic but evidently distraught ultrasound technician, and Julie Reed as an insensitive greenhorn of a genetic counselor, hit the nail with their precise comic timing, weaving much wry humor into this energetic and well-paced performance. I liked the touches of directorial brilliance displayed by Rowland — the physical disintegration of the walls of the ape enclosure, representing the blurring of the boundaries between the spoken and the unspoken; the quickly-rattled one-man duologues which depicted the frivolity of conversation and the closing cacophony of voices that served as a proxy to Brodie’s disoriented state of mind. The uniformly greenish-grey set and the generic, ageless costumes did not speak of a specific era, and that was what I liked about the play — you can watch it a decade later and still identify with the themes presented. I must really nitpick to find flaws in this production — some actors didn’t manage to find the light and the affectionate exchanges between Dre and Brodie could have been less rehearsed. Otherwise, the show proved to be thought-provoking and surprisingly congruent with our own lives. Watch out for this Precious Little — it’s a darling you’d want to love.

Precious Little continues its run from Feb. 24 to Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m.

Original Author: Brandon Ho