I don’t think it’s all that unusual for small children to have a relationship with God, whatever they conceive that to be. The early years of life are a strange and bewildering time; a prolonged shaking off of the dreams of oblivion. You don’t think about it all that often anymore once the options of a career in insurance are being brought to your attention, or what interest rates mean to you, or who might be willing to go home with you when the bar closes, but it’s not such a stretch to go back and imagine what laying out those visions for the scrutiny of a day time viewing audience might have done to you.
A Little Fire, written and directed by Megan Piercey Monafu and produced by Abalone Productions and Theatre of the Beat, is an ambitious piece, touching on mystical visions, child stars and stage parents, parental alcoholism and suicide, finding one’s calling in life early, then losing it and having to start again.
When we first meet Aithne, she is a child prodigy whose talents land her interviews on daytime TV, which turn awkward when she innocently advises the host and studio audience that her inspiration comes directly from God, and to take Jesus into their hearts. However, by age sixteen God has apparently stopped talking, and Aithne is lost and lonely, no longer able to paint, and she finds herself occupying much of her time with her job of cleaning her church.
Her father, though never a believer himself, was happy to humour her zeal as long as the money was rolling in, but Aithne’s loss of inspiration has brought out the angry drunk in him. Her mother, likely the source of Aithne’s religious zeal (Aithne’s account of God’s one noteworthy crying jag over “the depravity of mankind” can’t help but arouse suspicion), has been tragically dispatched. As she does not attend school or appear to have any peers, Aithne’s human contact is limited to her self-absorbed father, the priest at her church, and a homeless woman she befriends.
Once you get past a major plot contrivance (I have a much easier time buying a child with divinely inspired visions than I do flagrant violations of police procedure), you get to the story of two people, Aithne and Roy, whose paths cross having both run afoul of the law. Roy arrives on the scene, extremely drunk, a little belligerent and suffering his own decidedly non-mystical fall from grace. Aithne is initially frightened of him but his basic decency shines through and she’s the kind of person who can recognize the good in someone. They begin a conversation interspersed with flashbacks to the events and people that got each of them to the present.
Aithne has a penchant for stories. We learn that, as a child, God talked to her primarily through stories, which she would then paint. Not having heard from God for a while, she is desperate for a good story from which to take inspiration and asks Roy to tell her one. Roy, deep in the depths of his shame at his arrest, despair at having failed at what he’s long assumed was his own calling and still extremely inebriated, is in no mood so Aithne obligingly starts them off.
This weird, sheltered sixteen year old spinning her strange little allegories to her captive audience who can’t help but get caught up in them only to be genuinely horrified by the dark turns they take were my favourite parts of this play.
It’s a pretty heavy hundred minutes and yet there’s quite a bit of humour to be found. Emily Bozik gives an open, understated performance as Aithne and Johnny Wideman’s drunken remorse is palpable. William Beddoes as the fame hungry father and Carol Sinclair as a variety of characters that pop up in both story lines are good, and the heavy duty lighting design does the job of communicating Aithne’s visions.
This play asks a lot of questions that, thankfully, it doesn’t try to answer. What’s left when the thing that made you special has burned itself out before your life has even started? How many times in life will you lose your place and have to backtrack or pick up somewhere else altogether? And how will you handle it? Things end on a note of ambiguity. By the end I thought I knew Aithne’s choice but by the next morning I was less sure.
A Little Fire is at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Avenue) until Jan. 30, 2016. Tickets start at $20 and are available online.