Within a salon in France five writers, a rescuer/spy and a maid share each other’s company for a night of stories—some heartbreaking and others uplifting.
Set during the World War II era, Little Wars begins with lovers Gertrude Stein (Maggie Wirth) and Alice B. Toklas (Penny Lynn White) awaiting their guests, fellow writers, to arrive. The first to arrive is not a writer at all but Muriel Gardiner (Kristen Gehling). Under the codename Mary she aids Jews with crossing the French border into France with passports. Stein and Toklas—both Jews—lend a hand by providing Gardiner with money.
The hosts insist that the rescuer spend the night instead of sleeping at the train station. Lillian Hellman (Kimberly Faye Greenberg), Dorothy Parker (Dorothy Weems) and Agatha Christie (Kim Rogers) later arrive. Gardiner, the mystery woman, becomes the topic of discussion. Characters like Hellman pick at the subject till the truth is revealed following an accident which cannot just be pushed under the rug.
The night is spent drinking and telling stories. There are also high tension arguments.
The script by Steven Carl McCasland is written amazingly well for many reasons. For one we see some character development within Lillian Hellman. At the beginning she is an American Jewish woman who sees no use in helping to aid the Jews for it seems futile to do so. She dodges all moves from the other women trying to change her mind. In the end she makes the decision to help in her own way. The writing is clean and seems to have had much thought placed into its production.
Oddly, the characters’ stories are told not shown but it works. I conclude that this is due to the impeccable acting and direction. The audience falls for the charm of the women without them having to go on some long obstacle filled journey. This magical charm engages you to the point that you are ok with hearing and not really seeing. However, seeing some scenes acted out would really take this piece to the next level.
In fact the direction by Thia Stephan Hyde is flawless. The most beautiful scene is the final one in which the maid, Bernadette, played by Morgan DeTogne gives a brief “what happened next” for all the characters. As she speaks, she helps the characters prepare to leave the room. They each take turns posing in a picture frame, allowing lighting by Molly Tiede to bring out their faces. Everything blends together especially the costumes coordinated by Samantha Newby—they add the finishing touches.
The most memorable of the monologues include Stein’s “normal” speech. Playing a woman with same sex attraction, Wirth pushes through words coated with emotion in her “why am I not normal?” lines. Then there is DeTogne who paints vivid pictures as she relays a rape scene sure to leave a mark on your mind. Also Weems’ delivery of Parker’s visit to the doctor will send chills down your spine—drawing empathy for her.
The actors are all chiefs of their craft. It is a delight to watch every single cast member in action—not one is a disappointment. Even with tough topics such as war, abortion, depression and the Holocaust. The women are still able to pull a laugh here and there. Watching Greenberg and Wirth argue like cats and dogs is a treat. Rogers is one of those actors who never leaves character, not even for a second. There are minuscule details like the way she takes in a breath or rubs her head which just makes her believable. Actually, this trait is visible within the cast as a whole. It would be great to know who handled casting—they deserve a handshake.
The play preaches a message of self-love and love for all. It also serves as a piece that expresses the strength of women that too many times is overlooked. I recommend experiencing and supporting this show. There could be changes made to lift the piece even higher, but for now it is still a worthy watch.
Little Wars: Written by Steven Carl McCasland and directed by Thia Stephan Hyde.
With: Morgan DeTogne (Bernadette), Kimberly Faye Greenberg (Lillian Hellman), Kristen Gehling (Muriel Gardiner), Kim Rogers (Agatha Christie), Dorothy Weems (Dorothy Parker), Penny Lynn White (Alice B. Toklas), Maggie Wirth (Gertrude Stein)
Molly Tiede (Lighting), Samantha Newby (Costume Coordinator) and Barnaby Edwards (Executive Producer)
Little Wars — Roy Arias Stage II Theatre of 300 West 43rd Street, 4th FL . Beautiful Soup Theater, please visit www.beautifulsouptheatercollective.org.