Although it is no longer new, starting Friday, PURE Theatre is presenting a fresh take on the acclaimed play, Little Gem, at its Cannon Street Arts Center.
Little Gem is Irish playwright Elaine Murphy’s raucous debut piece that was first performed in the U.K. in 2008. This award-winning saga details the many events, from the magnificent to the mundane, which unfold within a single year for three generations of women from a (fictional) North Dublin family.
Loaded with both situational humor and timeless wisdom, this is just the sort of complicated tale the PURE ensemble delights in interpreting. As director Christy Landis told the City Paper, “There is no better medium to explore the complexities of human existence — our foibles, sarcasm, wit, shame, yearnings — than the medium of live theatre.”
That said, Landis and company had to move fast to bring their collective vision for Little Gem to fruition.
“In this instance, the show has come together relatively quickly,” she said. “Sharon Graci, our artistic director, had selected the play for inclusion in our ‘Season 19: Emergence.’ But as director, I only became attached to the project in late summer and we didn’t even start rehearsals with the actors until late October.”
For any other crew, such a hurried timeline would have been an intimidating task, but Landis insisted it was relatively easy to pull off, given the PURE ensemble’s long-established rapport, including Little Gem’s trio of lead actresses: Gibson Carter (as Amber); Camille Lowman (as Lorraine); and Lynda Harvey (as Kay).
“One of the great benefits of working with our Core ensemble is that everyone fulfills their individual responsibilities with great prowess, and we’re all aware of each other’s strengths, as we have been collaborating together for so many wonderful years,” Landis said.
That’s not to imply that there weren’t challenges. Since the characters are all North Dubliners and move throughout the play, there’s no single location where the story unravels. As such, the scene designer Richard Heffner was tasked with creating an environment that was visually compelling along the way, but still set up for dynamic movement.
Then there was the matter of where to stage the production. For PURE’s performances of Leonard Pulkey last month, the team went in search of adequate venues that were available. Fortunately for this one, the group was able to return to its home theater on Cannon Street for the entire run of Little Gem.
“As a company, we have always preferred smaller, more intimate performance spaces so that no one in the audience is too distant from the action and emotion of the plays,” Landis said.
This cozy little place is a perfect fit since, at one time or another, each character in Little Gem shares their innermost thoughts and memories with the audience. It is almost as if Murphy knew her work would one day end up here when she deftly, and intentionally, incorporated such direct addresses and asides into the dialogue.
In the end, Landis and Graci couldn’t be more pleased with the homecoming.
“During the pandemic, when the set of the last show that we produced before the lockdown was still standing where we left it, and the props were all still in the last place they were set before we went away, I would come and sit by myself in the seats and look at remnants of that interrupted show and wonder if we would ever come back,” Graci said.
Not surprisingly, given all that the PURE ensemble has endured of late, the team’s hopes around Little Gem are high.
“Opening Little Gem, in our home theatre, for a full run, is going to be amazing,” Graci said. “It is the final lap in a very long journey home. We’ve grown a lot, we’ve learned a ton, and we’ve calibrated and recalibrated our grit time and again over these last 20 months in anticipation of being here now.”
PURE Theatre presents Little Gem at the Cannon St. Arts Center Nov. 26 – Dec. 18. For tickets and show details call (843) 723-4444.