Fringe review: The Small Things

Brian Dooley, Nadien Chu in The Small Things. Photo by Ryan Parker.

By Liz Nicholls,

The Small Things (Stage 37, Suzanne Thibadeau Auditorium)

An old man and an old woman, the two old characters in this chilly 2005 play by the Irish playwright Enda Walsh, sit separately onstage, lost in their recollections. They talk and talk; they dare not stop talking. When the flow of words stop, life stops. There’s nothing small about small talk. 

In introspective soliloquies punctuated by an alarm clock, the Man (Brian Dooley) recalls his mother, his three-year-old self, bits of this and that about his childhood, his shoes with the red laces, his current bodily state. At a table, the Woman (Nadien Chu) talks to her knickknacks, and chit-chats away about her father, a tyrant who ruled the household, and “the shape of the day,” with a stopwatch, warding off chaos with a timetable.

Gradually, their memories intersect, and in the most harrowing way — with the horrific story of an unspeakable regime that keeps order and routine safe in the world by enforcing silence. It cuts out the people’s tongues. The Woman’s father and the chip shop man work for The Boss Man slicing them out. “The chip shop man has killed his only son.”

They share a breathless story of escape in the woods, in the present tense. In this bleak Beckettian landscape, the Man and the Woman seem to be the last people talking and alive. One of them will have the last word.

Dooley and Chu embrace the weird poetic rhythms of this harsh fable about the power of words in different ways, in Wayne Paquette’s production. He’s piecing together his memories, word by word, in a chain of thought. She’s a warmer, more impulsive sort who speaks words in tumbling bunches, lingers over favourites, and wonders where words “float to” once you’ve said them. “And are you listening to me?” she asks. “Am I the last to speak?” he asks.

The rest is silence. Powerfully acted, and scary. 


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