Little Thing, Big Thing, a dark comic crime thriller by Dublin playwright Donal O’Kelly follows a thief and a nun who are thrown into impossible circumstances with immense odds against them.
“The plot is huge. It has gun fights and chase scenes and a heist gone awry,” Daugherty says. “It’s great to set up a huge challenge like that for two actors.”
The story starts with an oil company polluting the Nigerian River Delta, and Sister Martha has been given evidence about some shady things that are going on in the company. She’s tasked with bringing it to the attention of someone who can expose it to the higher ups in Dublin.
“She is sent to Ireland to make the truth known and bad guys follow her to silence her,” Daugherty says. “Along the way, she runs into Larry, who was trying to steal something from the convent where Sister Martha is staying and they are both tied up in a car and left for dead. They end up joining forces to expose the truth and end up becoming friends. Hilarity ensues.”
Rex Daugherty discovered the play as director of Solas Nua’s playwriting series, and produced its reading in 2015.
“This was the most successful reading of that series. People really responded to it and audiences just loved it, and we had a really lively talk-back afterwards,” Daugherty says. “Since then, it’s always been on my shortlist of something I needed to think about when planning a season.”
Solas Nua wasn’t planning on producing a fall show, Daugherty – now Solas Nua’s artistic director for theater – said, but after Wild Sky’s sold-out run this summer, the company was able to add an additional production before its next scheduled show, Coolatully by Fiona Doyle which opens March 9.
“I knew it had to be a smaller show.” And they had only a few months’ notice to prepare. “This required just two actors, a minimal set and it fit perfectly in the slot,” Daugherty says. “I figured, ‘Why not? Let’s do it.’”
Although he auditioned actors for both roles, the two who had done the reading—Nanna Ingvarsson and Sasha Olinick—were available, and Daugherty found that no one could replace them.
“I had them in mind the whole time because they did the reading and it was clear they were meant for these roles,” Daugherty says. “Both of them are such chameleons and the script asks them to play over 20 different characters and without costume changes, so it’s complete physical pure theatricality in its performances.”
Ingvarsson and Olinick must play every character without the guise of fake mustaches or different clothes, and that involves a lot of skill.
“Sasha is a born character actor. He is so charming and brings so much warmth to all the characters he plays,” Daugherty says. “Nanna is just a magician to watch. Seeing her transform into all these roles is incredible. She had won a Helen Hayes award for The Amish Project, a one-woman show where she plays a bunch of characters, so this was not her first rodeo for this type of show.”
Runs November 10 – 27, 2016
Details and tickets
The secret of directing a play like Big Things, Little Things, Daugherty shares, is to just trust his actors and letting them play.
“It would be foolish for me to say all ideas have to come from me. So much of what we’re doing is meeting each other half way. We’ve tried a lot of things in rehearsals, and let the creativity come from anyone in the room,” he says. “With a piece like this that is such an actor’s showcase, it really has to be driven from the cast. A lot of my work has been to facilitate them to be brave and fearless and set up a groundwork for them to own the show and feel like they could turn in a good, dynamic performance.”
The show opens November 10th at Flashpoint, and Daugherty notes the small black box theater is ideal for Little Thing, Big Thing.
The set itself is just two chairs and a trunk, so Daugherty must also create a physical vocabulary that makes the play pop.
“A big element I am bringing is how much theater can we squeeze out of that? We’re using it in different ways and coming out of it at different angles,” he says. “The design team also supplements the story with the location of lights jumping all over the stage, and sound effects that come underneath it.”
“This play showcases what you can do with just two actors; you don’t need trap doors or big scenic changes,” he says. “It really shows off the power of theater in an intimate venue. You wouldn’t want to do this in a larger house.”
O’Kelly’s story also fits perfectly with Solas Nua’s mission of showcasing dynamic writing.
“We are looking for the best contemporary Irish writers and Donal O’Kelly has not been produced a lot in the states, but he is acclaimed in Ireland and has won several awards,” Daugherty says. “His language is interesting because it’s packed with sound effects that the actors speak out loud. When the phone rings, they shout ‘phone call ring,’ which shows even more athleticism in his language than you would find in a realism play. It’s bold theater.”