Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Toby Zinman wrote: Inis Nua Company's production of a new play by Elaine Murphy, is full of charm and sentiment and monologues and accents and working class women who keep on keeping on. In other words, it's an Irish play. An excellent cast.



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer


Little Gem, Inis Nua Company’s production of a new  play by Elaine Murphy,  is full of charm and sentiment and monologues and accents and working class women who keep on keeping on. In other words, it’s an Irish play.

Three accomplished actors give us three interesting portraits of three women, all of whom are defined by the men in their lives:

Lorraine (Corrina Burns), is a middle-aged woman who works in a store; she goes to see a “head doctor” who sympathetically touches her hand, making Lorraine realize that “I don’t remember the last time somebody touched me or hugged me or even nudged me.” Her drunk of a husband is long gone, but keeps turning up in repulsive, mawkish ways. When she is persuaded to go to a salsa dancing class, she meets Neil and she gradually, beautifully comes back to life.

Her daughter, Amber (Sarah Van Auken), is a teenager, who, predictably enough, drinks too much and finds herself pregnant by a guy who leaves for Australia. Her character seems the least developed: too little information (does she go to school? Does she work? Who supports her? Why does she live on her own?) Her story is the least resolved—perhaps because she is just at the start of her life.

Lorraine’s mother, Kay (the excellent Maureen Torsney-Weir) is married to Gem (short for James) who is the love of her life. But his illness has confined her to the house, and she struggles with needs she cannot solve (“I’m on the wrong side of sixty and I haven’t head sex in over a year and it’s killing me”).

It should be obvious by these brief summaries that these are old familiar stories, but the play makes them believable and moving and often funny—although it never rises to an idea: it’s all domesticity. If Little Gem  were shorter it would be even better since the direct-address monologues keep adding what seem to be unnecessary chapters without adding any new dimension.

Director  Kathryn MacMillan finds the solid center of femaleness of Little Gem and lets the actors, spotlit each in turn, speak from their own chairs in their own homes in Meghan Jones’ tripartite set.  They’re good company.


 Inis Nua Company at First Baptist Church, 17th & Sansom Sts. Through Feb.26.  Tickets $20-25. Information: (215) 454-9776 or


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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