Double distilled

The Little Years

By John Mighton
Directed by Andrew Frank
Manhattan Theatre Source
Non-union-production (closed)
Review by Doug DeVita

Doesn't every human feel the need to make a mark? Does anyone ever realize the impact that they have on another's life, be it negative or positive? These are just some of the questions John Mighton tackles in his moving, intelligent, but ultimately unsatisfying new play, The Little Years.

In a program note, director Andrew Frank stated that Mighton's play is "about how frequently what happens in your life is affected by what's not in your life - by what's missing..." And therein lies the problem. While Mighton's script has moments of piercing beauty, the whole isn't equal to the sum of its parts. Writing with a kind of emotional shorthand, Mighton allows (or forces) his actors (and audience) to fill in the gaps of what seems to be a more fully rounded play just waiting to emerge. The many compelling, recognizable truths in the writing plead for Mighton to have left less to the imagination. Not that audiences should be spoonfed their entertainment; quite the opposite. But The Little Years is so subtle that, like the faint trail of an alluring perfume wafting through the air, it cries out for something a little less elusive. And yet, like that perfume, the moments that were captured were spellbinding and lingered for hours afterward.

Beautifully directed and designed, and performed by an extraordinary cast, Frank's production dug right into the heart of the work, showcasing the strengths and glossing over the weaknesses of the script with a refreshing sense of respect and commitment. Hope Garland was a haunting presence as Kate, the lonely mathematical genius at the core of the play - this remarkable actress conveyed more with one painful look than most others could with pages and pages of dialogue. Likewise, Jessica Provenz (as the adolescent Kate) was exquisite, capturing that horrifying pubescent turmoil and burgeoning self-knowledge with just a tilt of her head or a darting, furtive glance. Late in the play, these two actresses shared the stage (when Provenz returned as Kate's niece, Tanya), and the combination was quietly explosive. As Kate realizes the profound influence she has had on Tanya, an influence she never dreamed she had, the genuine emotional simplicity supplied by the two actresses made the scene one of those magically heartbreaking moments that lift an already good production into the realm of the breathtaking.

Running barely an hour and 20 minutes (with intermission), another 20 minutes may have given The Little Years the heft it needs and deserves. Because no matter how beautiful, there is such a thing as being too thin. Especially when the bone structure is so obviously solid and well-formed.

(Also featuring Fiona Jones, Jason Howard, Kerri Lynn, Mitchell Riggs, and Susan Scudder. Lighting by Charles Kirby, set by Maruti Evans, Tomoko Naka and Suzy Dillinger.)
Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 1

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita