The one thing you should see this week: Hannah Moscovitch’s unsettling new play at Summerworks

The one thing you should see this week: Hannah Moscovitch’s unsettling new play at Summerworks

Michelle Monteith as Claire in Hanna Moskovitch’s Little One (Image: Natasha Mytnowych) 

This week’s pick: Little One at Summerworks.

Five years ago, director Natasha Mytnowych, actor Michelle Monteith and playwright Hannah Moscovitch collaborated for one of Summerworks’ greatest success stories, the bleak Stalinist love story The Russian Play. At that point, Monteith had already impressed Toronto audiences as Laura in CanStage’s The Glass Menagerie and Myntowych’s previous Summerworks show, Fly, had received strong notices. But this was probably the first time most theatergoers had heard Moscovitch’s name.

Now they can’t stop hearing it, and for good reason—Moscovitch might be best playwright Toronto’s got. Her storytelling is provocative and her use of language is elegant yet hilarious. This year, she’s reunited with Monteith and Mytnowych for another festival production, Little One, in which a boy confronts his inability to love his adopted sister, whose childhood trauma has left her bearing signs of psychopathy.

Monteith shines as Claire, the creepy, emotionally damaged sister, and Joe Cobden turns in a terrific, understated performance as her brother, Aaron (his deadpan delivery is reminiscent of Jason Bateman at his most tragicomic). But as usual, it’s Moscovitch’s writing that really shines. A play that could easily be bogged down in exposition becomes a feat of suspense as Claire hovers ominously between irksome brat and destructive monster. And with her ear for dialogue, Moscovitch weaves rhythms and speech patterns so lifelike that the script’s moments of insidious cleverness cut like a knife.

Little One is sure to be another Summerworks juggernaut for the three Ms, and we would be surprised if it doesn’t get snatched up for a full staging somewhere. It’s a gutsy script that bursts with menace, humour and even tenderness, as it asks whether love can—and should—always be unconditional. The answer might make you squirm.

The details: To Aug. 14. $15. Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., summerworks.ca.