Little Death, directed by Daniel Halpern and written by Daniel Sarah Karasik, opens with a conversation at a bar. The awkward conversation is realistic, eyes drift from hands to smiles. Tension builds for several minutes as the conversation between Ali, played by Hilary Allister, and Dallas, played by Simone Reid, dips its toe into the waters of intimate dialogue. All the while, Ali never lets on that their life is approaching its end.
It is never explicitly stated what happens after they leave the bar, but Ali’s troubled look fills the audience with questions. Will they? Won’t they? Those questions are answered as Ali returns to their partner in marriage, disappointed and disgruntled at their late return. A gripping and emotional back-and-forth bringing years of love into question ensues. Both surrender to the tension, leaving questions unanswered and problems unresolved.
This is the cyclical gritty reality of Little Death’s plot, following Ali as they stumble through various late nights at bars and hotels alike. Mortality always hangs in the background, hovering like a hammer that could drop at any moment. Ali’s struggle ends up feeling as though they are struggling to keep their head above water in a cement mixer; they are impotent to both their physical and metaphysical struggles.
Bri, Ali’s partner, played by Jonah Mullen, is torn limb from limb emotionally, filled with hate for their partner’s cheating but equally overwhelmed with empathy for their dying significant other. These heavy themes persist through the couples’ arguments, often without any form of resolution, leaving the answers to the moral dilemmas ambiguous to the crowd.
Performances from all are strong, but Mullen demands attention as they attempt to deal with their migraine-inducing relationship troubles. With glassy eyes and shuddering vocal cords, they cry for an end to their torment. Just as they act with ferocity, however, they show grace and bravery in a short dance that stands out as one of the most intimate moments in the entire play.
In isolation, the script is rather impressive. There are many moments in which actors speak over one another, especially in the arguments between Ali and Bri. Serious dialogue is often interrupted by silly, off-topic mentions, such as a cake in the freezer. On more than one occasion, the writing reminds me of Noah Baumbach’s 2019 film Marriage Story, which I hold in high regard for its screenplay.
The set, constructed by Noah Harrison, is arranged conservatively for minimal transitions, serving the cast well and making the play feel more alive. Unfortunately, a handful of lighting issues during the production I saw took me out of the magic, if only for a moment. I can only assume that having the stage lit while moving the bed on stage was a mistake. Hopefully, this was just a mishap during the showing that I attended.
Little Death is a play that I certainly recommend viewing. With solid performances and tight writing, it makes of intense themes entertaining and intriguing characters with personalities and lives of their own. It may not answer all of the questions that it asks, but the journey found in attempting an answer is worth the price of admission.