By Michele Markarian
Precious Little, by Madeleine George. Directed by Melia Bensusen. Presented by The Nora Theatre Company, Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge through March 26.
Brodie, a single lesbian linguistics professor, is pregnant by a sperm donor. Brodie, quite honestly, is probably the least maternal person out there – she actively cringes when her beaming ultrasound technician urges her to say hello to her baby. Brodie is also having an affair with one of her young grad students, who urges her to come to the zoo and witness a gorilla who is being taught to speak by its trainers. Brodie is offended by this; it’s not real science. She is more concerned with preserving the dying language of Kari, for which she’s found a native speaker to record some sounds. But the ambiguous results of her ultrasound rock the bedrock of her intellectually safe and verbal world.
This is an interesting play to watch. On one level, there’s Brodie’s outer life – the urgency of rescuing Kari, the power dynamics of an inappropriate relationship, the impatience of dealing with people who are not always as competent as Brodie would like them to be. Then there’s Brodie’s inner life – as a scientist, the thought of a child who can’t engage with her on the level that she’s comfortable with is just devastating. Yet when her grad student lover encourages her to “scrap” the fetus and start again, she’s oddly offended, even as she remains undecided.
Lee Mikeska Gardner captures the struggle and duality of Brodie – despite her intelligence, on some matters she remains obtuse. From what we gather, everything she’s done in her life thus far, including the decision to have a child at forty two, has been a decision of the mind. Gardner magnificently conveys Brodie’s inward journey as her outer life begins to crumble. When the daughter of Brodie’s native Kari speaker withdraws her from the study and tells Brodie, “Some things are meant to die out. It’s called evolution”, you can see the pain and turmoil in Brodie’s expression, despite her outward composure.
Karoline Xu, who plays a number of roles, including parents and children at the zoo, Brodie’s grad student lover, an ultrasound technician, and the mother of Brodie’s study subject, shines. She moves deftly between the characters, from the ditzy technician to the severe daughter of the elderly woman. Nancy Carroll is outstanding in her roles – native Kari speaker, ultrasound supervisor, and the gorilla. Carroll’s gorilla has depth; this is no ordinary creature, but an animal with an inner life despite what Brodie initially thinks. Carroll’s movements and expressions are remarkable; she transforms into a creature that reveals itself to have human capabilities.
Melia Bensusen’s direction keeps the pace steady; at 80 minutes without an intermission, the piece hits all of its marks without feeling rushed. We bear witness to Brodie’s evolution as she moves, unwittingly, from the life of the mind to the life of the heart. I won’t tell you if Brodie decides to keep the baby. I will tell you that when the ultrasound supervisor says to her, “Whatever you do, something will happen. It will be a new life, and you’ll be inside it’, it generated a feeling of excitement in me. A good play takes you on an emotional journey, good actors let you experience that journey with them, and in this, “Precious Little” gives us an awful lot. For more info, go to: https://www.centralsquaretheater.org/