If I were a blurb whore I might start this article with:
"If you liked...
...than you'll love Little Wars"
But I am not a blurb whore. At least not most of the time. But I do think you'll love Little Wars.
Here's a beautiful problem with theater (and smallish movies, too): there's more good stuff than anyone can possibly see. And also, sometimes, depending on promotional budgets and media pedigree or lack thereof in both cases, more good stuff that we sometimes ever hear about. I refuse to be a part of that problem so I blog from the missionary zeal of great entertainments. One of the reasons The Film Experience takes detours to theater and TV and books is that all of the storytelling playgrounds inform and cross-pollinate.
Which brings us to "Little Wars," one of five works by a very promising young playwright Steven Carl McCasland who I hadn't even heard of until last week. (The five plays run in repertory through May 31st so there's only 4 more chances to see this one). I bring it to your attention because it's entirely affordable ($18 a ticket) and it's an actressexual's delight.
Little Wars riffs on iconic people and though that device can sometimes prove gimmicky (consider that wobbly first season of Penny Dreadful or any number of tacky riffs on "public domain" characters), it's also responsible for great works of art (case in point: The Hours, fictional but inspired by Virginia Woolf's 'whole life in a single day' work on Mrs. Dalloway). McCasland's play happily falls much closer towards the latter pile of fictions. It imagines a 1940 evening inside the Parisian salon of Gertrude Stein (Polly McKie) & Alice B Toklas (Penny Lynn White), then "radical lesbians" -- radical because they were out -- who've invited "The Great Agatha Christie" (Kim Rogers) to dinner... liquid dinner nat'ch. Things don't go as planned since there's an unexpected visitor who goes by "Mary" (Kristen Gehling), a secretive housemaid (Samantha Hoefer) and Christie really disrupts the plans by bringing along Dorothy Parker (Dorothy Weems) and playwright Lillian Hellman (Kimberly Faye Greenberg). Initially just hearing these famous accomplished characters (who did know each other in real life though the play is fictional) verbally spar, boast, and drink like fish is entertaining enough but as the play progresses, organic drama emerges involving differences of opinion about art, the Nazi threat, marriages (gay and straight), and survival through wars large and small.
McKie and White anchor the play with fairly miraculous specificity as the odd (lifelong) couple at its center but most of the women are given at least one shining moment or two in McCasland's generous ensemble writing. I wanted a clearer picture of Dorothy Parker's famous wit, she mostly seems sad and drunk, but there was more than enough to compensate elsewhere. Familiarity with their collective works or previous biopics will undoubtedly aid your enjoyment -- especially if you've seen The Children's Hour (1961) and Oscar favorite Julia (1977) -- but the play is strong enough to stand on its own as a fascinating and unexpectedly moving collision of voices at a pivotal moment in history.
P.S. an 'it's a small-world' bonus for readers of The Film Experience. The actress playing Agatha Christie, Kim Rogers (no relation), is a longtime fan of The Film Experience -- we'd never previously met but we talked after the show.