The motormouthed crime caper Little Thing, Big Thing is a shining example of the sort of lo-fi, high-speed theater that Solas Nua does better than any outfit in town. The D.C.-based contemporary Irish arts organization once used the cavernous Uline Arena—site of The Beatles’s first concert on U.S. soil, 52 years before it became an REI—as a venue. But it’s best known for the kind of intimate, minimally produced shows that would work on a basketball court or in a basement.
A comic thriller set in rural Ireland, Little Thing, Big Thing features Nanna Ingvarsson and Sasha Olinick sharing two dozen roles and a half-dozen accents between them. There are alcoholic cops and executives from multinational oil interests in the dramatis personae, but Ingvarsson spends most of the show’s breathless 90 minutes as Martha, a nun just back from Nigeria, and Olinick as Larry, a thief who happens to be burgling her convent when bad men show up. All he’d intended was to purloin a statue of the Virgin Mary—bad karma, surely, but nothing like the kind of mortal sin the other intruders had in mind. Larry and Martha flee in a van, and the tale follows their long night’s journey into day, Sister Martha chiding the driver for his profanity all the while. “Coarse language is just a sign of impotence,” she sniffs.
The reprimand is funnier spoken in an Irish accent, because everything is funnier spoken in an Irish accent. Playwright Donal O’Kelly de-emphasizes the visual components of theater like sets and props in favor of roiling waves of language—dialogue, interior monologues, even the stage directions the players recite aloud. Even when the plot—something about an incriminating roll of film with which Sister Martha has been entrusted—leaves you lost, the current of words pulls you along.
The show’s other source of pleasure is the grace and ease of Ingvarsson and Olinick’s quick-changes between characters. At one point, Ingvarsson transubstantiates from a dozing nun into a policeman who questions Larry on suspicion of drunk driving while trying not to wake the nun in the passenger seat. The device recalls the stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps that ran on Broadway from 2008-2010, which used only four actors to embody every character from the movie (and other Hitchcock movies), bringing a similar circus-like appeal to a chase plot.
But the precedent Little Thing, Big Thing most reflects is Disco Pigs, the first show Solas Nua performed, in 2005. Director Rex Daugherty appeared in it off-Broadway in 2008 and here in D.C. in 2009. Like Little Thing, Big Thing, it was a frenetic two-hander staged minimally, with spoken-aloud stage directions and no props save for a shopping cart. (Little Thing, Big Thing uses a couple of chairs, a scrim, and a trunk.) Disco Pigs cast Daugherty and Madeleine Carr as Irish teens on a spree of petty crime and self-discovery. It ran only 60 minutes. This time, the characters and performers are older and their awakening is of the political variety. But the impact is similar. It’s a powerful thing, to do a lot with just a little.
At Flashpoint Mead Theatre Lab to Nov. 27, 916 G St. NW. $35. (202) 315-1317. solasnua.org.