Happy Fringe Festival! SAD Mag's web presence is about to give you a whole lot of the Vancouver Fringe, kicking off with a preview of star star theatre's Precious Little.
Imagine, one day, your spoken words were no longer a functional way to communicate: how would you navigate sharing your human experience? When the foundation of our verbal communication cracks, how else do we interact, and with whom? What happens when the ways in which we communicate fail us?
Precious Little, a play written by American playwright, Madeleine George (she/her), manages to explore, unpack and manifest these world-trembling questions within the confines of 90 minutes. When 42-year old lesbian Brodie, who is a gifted linguist, learns that the baby she carries may not be able to speak, she finds comfort and perspective in two surprising connections: the elderly speaker of a vanishing language and a gorilla at the zoo.
As you can probably deduce from this description, Precious Little deals with some heavy themes: pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, child impairment, and the foundations of how we communicate. “A large theme of this piece” explains director Mika Laulainen (she/her) “is the natural versus the institution, and how these constructed spaces shape and shift the way we communicate.” The play’s various physical settings are rich ground to explore this notion: the play opens with Brodie at an appointment in a genetic counselling office, a sterile environment in aesthetic, but also in communication. Can comforting language even exist in these spaces? the news about the child Brodie carries is revealed in the same setting. Factual language, objective and clean on the surface, is so weighted by the situation: Can this scientific language be an effective way to communicate to a queer female linguist, the gravity of potentially having a baby that cannot speak? “Brodie is very cut and dry, as a character, she is not emotionally charged. She can’t express her feelings she is having through conventional language. So, it begs the question: how does language mean what we think it means, when language is so contingent on our feelings?”
Then there is the space of the zoo, where Brodie interacts with a caged gorilla. Suddenly, there is a space where the human is interacting with an animal, where language is no longer verbal, but communication can still be present. When our words are no longer useful, how do we experience our interactions? Can we communicate in a more visceral, bodily way? Is it possible to be understood in a more spiritual, energetic sense, to go deeper in dialogue when we are stripped of our dependence on the word?
I ask Mika how she approached a script so rich in challenging content as a director. She first explains her overall mantra: “As a director you need to create space that is safe, but also a space where people bring their best work and explore the limits to full depth.” As a company, star star theatre specializes in ensemble theatre, which Mika speaks to. “Ensemble based acting choices are extremely important to me,” she says. And this extends off the stage as well. “Immediately you have to think about inclusivity, and not just the inclusivity of making certain roles: Therese Champagne, (she/her) is retired, and can rehearse whenever she wants. Sara Andrina Brown (she/her), well, this is her job, and Elizabeth Holliday (she/her), well, she has 6 jobs.” Mika felt it extremely important to consider how to hold and create space for different kinds of working professionals, coming from different backgrounds and generations. Throughout the rehearsal process, the cast would participate in dinner breaks which functioned like a family dinner, allowing them to candidly discuss their lives and the play. With such a generational gap amongst the cast, this discussion was integral to the process, especially in relation to topics such as queerness, gender pronouns, and what it means to be a woman in certain social contexts.
Mika’s energy and enthusiasm about the piece and the process really solidifies the exciting yet simultaneously challenging piece of theatre this seems to be. It is a harmonious hybrid of natural and institutionalized spaces, and the entirely female intergenerational cast embodying unexpected roles challenges the conventional characters that are created for women in theatre. This is a work that navigates the abstract ways in which we place meaning in language and the ways in which we genuinely communicate. Prepare for a beautifully complex and thoughtful 90 minute whirlwind.
Precious Little runs at the Vancity Culture Lab at the Cultch September 8th-16th. You can find tickets and more info at tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/precious%20little/events.