Thursday, May 07, 2015

"Little Bee" stings with real life drama

Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako as Little Bee (John Ulman)

Little Bee
Book-It Repertory Theatre
Through May 17

If you’re like me, you probably don’t know all that much about Nigeria and the relationship with international oil conglomerates. The attempt to control the valuable oil resources of Nigeria has created undeniable danger for residents of areas on top of oil. Book-It Repertory Theatre’s latest production is based on the fictionalized plight of one young teenager, but there is no mistaking the desire for the novel writer, Chris Cleave, to help us realize the truth of the Nigerian situation.

Little Bee is the name of the play and the name of the main character, played with heartbreaking simplicity and sagacity by Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako. She begins a narration of her circumstances by first asking us to agree with her that scars are beautiful. Scars prove you’ve survived. Many of the stories Little Bee and other women have survived begin with the phrase, “And then the men came…” This is both a wonderful moment and one that portends great pain to come.

Little Bee has escaped from horrendous circumstances in Nigeria, to land at the doorstep of a virtual stranger in London. Sarah (Sydney Andrews), a fashion magazine editor, and Andrew (Eric Riedmann) met Little Bee on a Nigerian beach. That moment, two years in the past, has formed scars that haunt all its participants. If you have not read the book, it would be churlish to give away the details.

Little Bee has risked her life over and over to reach London, only to be caught up by immigration police and stuck inside a horrid immigrant prison for two years. Once let go on a technicality, the only people she knows in Britain are this young couple. So, she finds her way there, not even knowing whether there will be a welcome from them.

Little Bee arrives at a time of crisis: Andrew has committed suicide and Sarah is trying to cope with that and to care for her young son. Young Jonah Kowal does a great job as the boy who won’t take off his Batman suit. Little Bee immediately becomes useful as the boy’s babysitter, so we know there is likely a new home for her in this arrangement.

But the relationship between Sarah and Little Bee is the glue that holds the story together as we get pieces of story over the course of the evening. Some of the story is harrowing and extremely well-portrayed by a fabulous ensemble cast directed by Myra Platt, who also adapted the novel. In particular, Meiko Parton portrays a truly terrifying Nigerian gangster, along with other roles.

The first act is the best of the journey, here, with the second act getting a bit unrealistic, especially toward the end. But that shortcoming is more the result of the novel’s shortcomings than the stage play’s. Still, the two leads are entirely watchable and committed and do some of their best work seen on stage to date.

This is an uncomfortable show, in some ways, but an important and educating one. I highly recommend it! (However, it’s not for younger children, due to the very adult violence. Perhaps teens over 13.)

For more information, 206-216-0833 or go to www.book-it.org