The Little One
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 19, 2010
MARIE: When you were human, were you a vegetarian?
MARIE: So you enjoyed meat.
ARTEMIS: Loved it.
MARIE: I did, too. Steak?
ARTEMIS: Of course.
MARIE: So. As a meat-eater, would you go to the cattle farm and taunt the cows there before going to the steakhouse?
MARIE: Would you find live chickens and rip their legs off before dining on them?
ARTEMIS: (Sighs.) No.
MARIE: Then why, after having centuries to supposedly mature, do you feel the need to taunt and terrify your meal before dining?
James Comtois's new play, The Little One, is about vampires. Marie and Artemis are the first two we meet; many more, a colorful and diverse lot, come later. The only human characters are essentially cameos: prey; food.
The story is set among a small and slowly diminishing community of vampires, and allows us to imagine what it might be like to be a potentially immortal being who must shun religion and perhaps morality in order to survive, and who must live among a hostile and in some ways inferior related species in order to feed. Must such an entity by definition be a monster?
Framed against this fascinating and joltingly earnest exploration is a more traditional tale of power and manipulation and love, or at least the closest that vampires can get to love. Cynthia, a young and lovely human woman, is turned into a vampire by Artemis. Marie quickly becomes Cynthia's mentor (which in vampire terms is a very strong and lasting bond). One of the first things Marie does is bring Cynthia to Gogol, "the governor in charge of this region." But it's clear that there's more than meets the eye going on between Marie and Gogol.
Cynthia balks at her "training" and tries to live a normal life among humans. But her bodily needs put her at odds with the people she once cared about, and time moves faster for immortal beings: in the play's most affecting sequence, we feel her fraying bonds with her humanity dissipate and then disappear.
Marie is waiting faithfully for Cynthia when she's ready to return to the vampire community, and soon they're a kind of "couple" (though there doesn't seem to be anything sexual in any of the vampiric pairings we meet) and Cynthia has become friends with Marie's circle: Flora and Francis, who reside stylishly in Paris; Jeremy, who works for Gogol; and Sergei, a Russian who was "turned" by Gogol but now has rebelled against his former mentor. As Cynthia tries to immerse herself in her new lifestyle, she comes to realize that a dangerous game is being played out by Marie and Gogol. Is Cynthia merely meant to be a pawn? Or will her own survivor instincts kick in?
After a first act that establishes the milieu of the vampire characters with precision and careful thought, Comtois provides a stylish adventure tale for his second act. The environment, and the fact that many of the most powerful characters are women, add particular distinction to this yarn. Pete Boisvert, Comtois's frequent collaborator (and co-founder of Nosedive Productions), directs with his customary flair, so that The Little One is fast-paced and constantly engrossing throughout. The production is not without its minor missteps—Qui Nguyen's fight choreography, relying on his signature martial arts moves, which I usually adore, sometimes feels out of place among the elegant and reserved vampires who execute it. And Betsy Strong's costume designs are tasked with evoking an increasingly distant future—the play begins in the present day and moves forward many centuries; I wondered if it might not have been better to start in the past and end in 2010, so that Strong could draw upon existing fashions rather than try to invent new ones.
The cast is uniformly fine. Rebecca Comtois and Becky Byers provide The Little One's strong center as, respectively, Marie and Cynthia; they play with assurance and control and bring depth to their characters that is sometimes unexpected. Patrick Shearer, adopting a terrific cockney accent, is suitably malevolent as Gogol. Christopher Yustin (Sergei), Ryan Andes (Artemis), Stephen Heskett (Francis), Stephanie Cox-Williams (Flora), and Jeremy Goren (Jeremy) all create intriguing individuals as their vampire characters and double/triple as members of the human/prey ensemble. Rounding out the excellent company is Melissa Roth as Alicia, the young, until-recently-human woman who is Gogol's latest protegee.
The Little One has plenty of action, suspense, and more than a little stage blood. But what's scariest about it is the way Comtois uses these soulless characters to plumb the flawed souls of his human audience. This is a play that is both more profound and more philosophical than you ever expect "genre theatre" to be. It's a compelling new work by one of indie theater's most reliable storytellers.