InnerMission Productions has been around for a decade staging shows throughout San Diego from Chula Vista to Ocean Beach. However, Co-Artistic Director, Carla Nell’s, rendition of Madeleine George’s melancholy and funny drama, Precious Little, represents the beginning of a new chapter for the company. 2015 is the first year InnerMission has a full season of theatre.
Brodie (Jennie Olson Six) is a bright, but cynical pregnant lesbian linguist who has trouble connecting with other people. She has a supportive girlfriend, Dre (Jyl Kaneshiro), but Brodie does not appear to have anyone else in her life that she truly cares about.
One day, Dre takes Brodie to a zoo so they can see an intellectually gifted gorilla (Kathi Copeland). The antisocial professor becomes so fascinated by the great ape, that she frequently returns to the park only to spend extended time with the primate.
George’s script includes situational humor to keep the tone from feeling pessimistic. She finds ways to make jokes out of Brodie’s unusual personality without ever judging the expectant mother.
The mom-to-be’s story might initially seem slight, but the plot becomes richer upon reflection especially when it comes to the theme of being isolated. Not only does Brodie fail to maintain lasting relationships, but several zoo visitors played by Kaneshiro have issues forming bonds with others. Even the gorilla is forced to spend time in a cage alone while humans stare at her.
While Brodie goes through a character arc, George does not offer easy answers during the 80-minute staging. Instead, theatregoers are asked to think about the messages once the tale is over.
If the playwright occasionally seems a little too eager to impress with her prose, such as a sequence when Dre goes on a tangent about her possible future, George is able to maintain a creative voice during every scene. The actresses who star in Precious Little perform her frequently intricate words with meaningful conviction.
At times, Six is intentionally unsympathetic and does not seem very interested in making her role likeable for viewers. Still, Six does humanize Brodie, particularly when she finds out potentially upsetting news about her planned pregnancy.
Kaneshiro gets to speak some of George’s juiciest material with emotional intelligence and Copeland mimics an animal without turning into a caricature. Both portray multiple people and they make every person they play fascinating to watch.
Nell only has a small space to work with in the Diversionary Black Box, which is ideal for such an intimate event. The action occurs very close to the audience allowing the world to feel immersive.
There is an abstract quality to Shaun Tuazon-Martin’s set with every segment occurring in front of walls full of papers. This choice along with monologues from the gorilla can almost make Precious Little seem like a fantasy.
One minor quibble is that a reoccurring tune featured in Nell’s sound design during Brodie’s early trips to the zoo gets a little repetitive. The good news is that the music choices become stronger as the evening progresses.
George is at her most poetic as a storyteller in an extended speech Copeland gives depicting Cleva, a woman who speaks a dying language. As she says a word that triggers haunting flashbacks, elegant music, Copeland’s gut-wrenching acting and Chad Oakley’s distinct lighting result in one of the more beautiful scenes of Precious Little.
By picking a fairly new and ambitious narrative, InnerMission is opening the season with plenty of promise. Co-Artistic Director Kym Pappas will direct Disappearing Act in December and those who love George’s writing can now visit the Moxie Theatre to watch her Pulitzer Prize finalist show, THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE.