Communication, both spoken and unspoken, is at the heart of "Precious Little," a play by Madeleine George, now getting an effective and thought- provoking production at Thinking Cap Theatre in Fort Lauderdale.
The play opens on Carol Sussman portraying an ape in a zoo, one of several characters Sussman plays. Keenly aware of everything around her and sharply focused on each of her actions, Sussman describes each detail, giving voice to the ape’s inner monologue. Stephon Duncan, representing the zoo visitors, watches Sussman’s ape and speaks the thoughts and comments of those watching her in an uninterested and distracted monotone. This is both intrusive and an insult to the ape’s majestic dignity.
In the next scene, we meet Brodie, played by Sabrina Lynn Gore, who is having a consultation with a counselor. Brodie is a linguist, a lesbian, and very pragmatic about every facet of her professional and personal life. At age 42, she is pregnant for the first time — her career always came first — and has come to the clinic to arrange tests that will give some insight into any abnormalities her child might face, as the odds of birth defects rise in advanced age pregnancies. Brodie has already decided which birth defects she can and can’t handle, and is prepared to terminate the pregnancy based on the test results.
Professionally, Brodie is trying to preserve a nearly extinct language by recording one elderly woman, Cleva, (Sussman) who is one of the last native speakers, and in doing so, clashes with the woman’s daughter Evelyn (Duncan). To help distract her from work and pregnancy problems, Brodie’s lover/grad student Dre (Duncan) gets her to visit the zoo, and see the ape, who, it turns out, is a veteran of a language program and understands words. Initially disdainful, Brodie becomes fascinated with the ape, and imagines a fantasy life which leads to new insight into herself, her work, and her future.
Although the play often feels disjointed with too many disparate threads, director Nicole Stodard’s vision and staging keeps the story cohesive. The only quibble with the staging is the overly choreographed changing of scenes and props by the cast, which takes up more time than it should and interrupts the flow of the play.
Both Sussman and Ducan excel at showing their versatility and range by creating very different, clearly delineated characters. For Sussman, that’s the dignified but lonesome ape, the almost child-like Cleva, as well as calm counselor Dorothy; while Duncan deftly switches gears from meek new-to-the-job counselor Rhiannon, to Cleva’s put-upon daughter Evelyn, to Brodie’s hip younger lover Dre, to pleasant ultra-sound tech Gloria (who casually drops a bombshell line) to the intrusive chorus of zoo visitors.
Gore, the only actress who plays only one character, beautifully conveys Brodie’s growth and heartbreaking realizations over the course of the play.
"Precious Little" is the kind of play that raises issues that the audience will be left to ponder. And this is the kind of production that has built Thinking Cap’s reputation for producing quality theater and evocative food for thought.
"Precious Little" runs through May 26 at The Vanguard Sanctuary for the Arts, 1501 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Show times 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday, May 22. General admission $40; Students 25 and under: $20. Call 954-610-7263 or go to VanguardArts.org.