Kalesuuala. Issakauula. Baluualka. In the fictional language of Kari, these words mean “morning,” “ribbon,” and “dog.” Spoken as a sentence, they mean absolutely nothing.
Sarah Brodie, the main character of Precious Little, doesn’t care what they mean. After years of working as a linguist, Brodie has lost touch with the meaning of the words she reveres. “I know it might seem weird,” Brodie says, “but remember we’re not telling a story. We’re just collecting the sounds you make. The meaning of the words isn’t important.”
Precious Little, playing this weekend and next at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, deals with the role of language in communication—a means which truly separates humans from other species.
Bridget Saracino ’11, who plays Brodie, noted the intricacies of her character, a 42-year-old woman trying to have a child through a donor. Brodie’s obsession with language has “gotten to the point where she can’t even love it anymore,” Saracino said. “She dissects it into pieces.”
But, as both the cast and the audience learned, language is not the only method of communication. When prenatal tests reveal that Brodie’s baby has genetic flaws that might impair her ability to talk, Brodie is left helpless, unable to deal the possibility of a child with whom she cannot communicate.
Brodie grapples throughout the play with the problems of communication, eventually coming to understand that there are ways to connect with people other than the “language and words and sounds [which] are so essential” to her, Saracino said.
“There will be some sort of connection [between Brodie and the baby] that’s deeper,” she said. “More full, more valuable, more fleshed out, more real.”
The somber topics faced in the show do not weigh it down. Rather, they provide balance. Precious Little is filled with comedy, irony and touching moments that feel incredibly genuine. Coupled with a visually astonishing set and spot-on contemporary dialogue, the show is a testament to the talents of both the cast and everyone involved in its production.
The playwright, Madeleine George ’96, visited Cornell this semester to speak with students about her piece, which is still a work in progress. She also visited last fall for a workshop in which she met with students and worked with director Myles Rowland ’11.
Many audience members have seen Rowland perform at the Schwartz Center, where he has acted in ten mainstage shows. Most recently, he played Giuliano in Big Love. As an outstanding Theatre Arts major, Rowland was offered the opportunity to direct a production as part of the Advanced Undergraduate Theatre Program.
Rowland is a “brilliant director,” according to Saracino. He encouraged his cast to focus on the objectives of the characters. For Saracino, this method helped her relate to Brodie’s character and seamlessly play a middle-aged woman.
The cast members agreed the message of the show would be different for everyone because each audience member’s unique experiences would affect how they interpreted it.
“It comes back to the basic human connection and it’s not so much about speaking as it is listening and just being present with someone,” Saracino said. “I feel like that’s our job as actors: to just be present and be able to digest information and give it back in some way that is possibly helpful and meaningful and affects people.”
Precious Little runs next weekend at the Schwartz Center from Thursday, February 24 to Saturday, February 26. Performances begin at 7:30 PM.