Without making a hard-and-fast religious thing of it, I try not to read the parts of the press releases that describe a play before I’ve seen it, basically because I want to be as surprised as possible. So a majority of the time, I do get to experience new plays “cold.” It’s usually nice not to be pre-programmed with story expectations, but once in a while, it’s a positive blessing. I find myself thrilled not to have known anything about Adam Bock’s new play A Small Fire in advance; and bewildered as to how I might review it without incurring some major spoilers. For indeed, its very inciting event is a small crack that hits at the giant fissure to follow.
After much pondering, I think I can say this much. The play centers around Emily Bridges (Michelle Pawk) a tough, competent businesswoman who runs a building contractor company; she’s compassionate but no-nonsense and uncompromising on the job, as demonstrated by her relationship with her foreman of about five years, Billy Fontaine (Victor Williams). She’s a tough customer at home too. Happily her husband John (Reed Birney) is hip to a more caring Emily benearth the surface, although he’s constantly doing damage control with their grown daughter Jenny (Celia Keenan-Bolger), who feels little maternal warmth at all.
Well…something happens to Emily. It’s random, it’s progressive and it seems untreatable. And her well-developed defenses become less and less a friend to her. And she has to deal with a sudden, enforced vulnerability she would once have been ashamed of…and try to find a new strength there.
For all that Bock’s play is a very small and intimate one, something very large seems to be at the center and therein lies its quiet power. The direction by Trip Cullman is deceptively low-key, and the performances from all hands—most especially Ms. Pawk, here dancing out on a limb as she’s never had a chance to before—are superb.
So…Small Fire, big deal. Go and see why.
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