BY Brandon Voss
January 19 2010 4:55 PM ET
Winner of the Best of Edinburgh Award at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Little Gem ended its little engagement at the little Flea Theatre on January 16 before heading back across the pond to play the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Elaine Murphy’s charmingly colloquial play is a gem indeed, and one that sparkles with surprising wit and substance for a first-time playwright. Taking inspiration from her loquacious Irish predecessors like Conor McPherson and Brian Friel, Murphy milks a magically delicious evening out of intertwined monologues from three thick-accented generations of Irish women: Amber, a sassy teen who mistakes the plus sign on her pregnancy test for a negative x; her mother, Lorraine, a harried shop worker harassed by an ex; and Lorraine’s mother, Kay, who tries to scratch an “itch down there” with a noisy vibrator she describes in hilariously graphic detail.
A hit transfer from the Irish Rep, The Emperor Jones rules the Soho Playhouse until January 31. In Eugene O’Neill’s 1920 expressionistic drama, African-American ex-con Brutus Jones has somehow positioned himself as a cruel dictator of a remote island in the West Indies. When the natives revolt, Jones, played with whip-cracking yet uncertain bravado by John Douglas Thompson, takes a long nightmare’s journey into the forest, where he’s driven to madness by hallucinations or haunts that are stunningly conjured with creepy masks, a chorus of tree-people, and old-school puppetry. Though I can’t shake the feeling that the play’s more than a little bit racist — dense with minstrel dialect, it practically opens and ends with Jones’s white ally spouting the n word — it’s a must for O’Neill fans and perhaps best viewed by all as the relic it is. If you’re really intrigued, try tracking down the 1933 film version.
Next month: OMG, ScarJo debuts on Broadway! Plus, Victor Garber does Noël Coward and Michael Urie does Caligula. As always, I’ll save you a seat!
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