They’re the neighbours next door and they have terrible, dark and disturbing secrets to hide and to share in Hannah Moscovitch’s psychological thriller, Little One, (currently at the Belfry Theatre’s SPARK Festival).
With a creep factor tuned to high, and disorienting sound and visual effects to keep the audience off-kilter, Little One is as far from comfortable as I am willing to accept.
Michelle Monteith in Little One. Photo: Natasha Mytnowych
Thankfully there are moments of humour, light, and yes, even love, in this tight and taut 60 minute drama that was the darling of Summerworks in 2011. Further development followed in 2012 and it was recently featured as part of a Moscovitch festival at Tarragon Theatre.
While this tale of two unrelated orphans, now siblings in a liberal well-to-do Ottawa enclave, remains chilling, it is rescued in its bleakness by the extraordinary performances of Joe Cobden as Aaron, the nebbish older brother, forced to give up so much, and Michelle Monteith (a University of Victoria Phoenix Theatre alumnus) as Claire, the damaged younger sister.
There is something in Monteith’s portrayal that harkens back to Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. With pitch-perfect inflection, and flat affect, she impeccably captures the on-again, off-again personality of this troubled young woman. The air of menace is palpable and we wait for the explosion to come.
Running in parallel to the story of Aaron and Claire, the lives of the couple next door, a computer programmer and his Vietnamese mail-order bride, play out in the tales Claire weaves.
Dim lighting and haze create the illusion of spelunking, or archaeologists exploring musty hallways as they delve into the deeper mysteries within.
Lit from below, for the main part, by flashlight beams, Monteith becomes a barely alive ghost, wandering hauntingly from place to place, dis-orienting Cobden in her ability to pop out of nowhere.
Musician Kaylie Lau plunks away in disarming off-key fashion from the moment the audience enters the theatre.
Director Natasha Mytnowych’s unerring guidance pulls every ounce of sympathy from this complex story; there’s a sense of the unerringly Greek in the characters inability to rise above the core of their existence. No amount of personal agency can change their pre-determined lot.
It’s a sad, sad fact that sometimes, all the love and understanding in the world is never going to make a situation better, despite the best intentions.
Little One is a brilliant demonstration of the hard reality of lives changed beyond repair, the quiet tragedies in the seemingly everyday among us. Moscovitch has crafted a play that will stay with you for a very long time.
If the show is sold out, and you’d like to see more of Moscovitch’s work, check out Scrumpy Theatre’s production of Essay (on til March 30th at the Intrepid Theatre Club).
Little One by Hannah Moscovitch, directed by Natasha Mytnowych, Theatre Crisis
Belfry Theatre SPARK Festival
March 20 – 23rd, 8pm with a matinée Saturday at 4pm.
Tickets: $20. Discounts for: seniors (10%), post secondary students (25%) and high school students (50%)
Online or by phone 250 385 6815
Audience advisory: This show contains strong language, mature content, and large amounts of stage haze.
Disclaimer: I was offered free tickets to Little One. I was not required to write a review. As always, I retain editorial control of all content posted on my blog.