Review: ‘Small Prey’

Saturday Night Live" alumna Nora Dunn gives her well-wrought TV characterizations some extended playing time in this solo outing, assisted greatly by the intriguing, expressionistic staging of David Schweizer. The mood of the evening is further heightened by the colorful Dadaesque set pieces of Scott Siedman and the pastel-hued lighting of Julie Whitaker. For all the care director and performer have taken with the highlighting of each character, however, the transitions between presentations are often clumsy and ill-timed. There is a looseness to the production that gives the feeling Dunn and Schweizer are still working things out. Dunn starts the evening off well as an immaculately tailored, motor-mouthed career woman who effectively lambastes a wide variety of subjects, including the pope, marriage and children. When referring to the status of today's woman, she sneers, "Everyone wants a woman to make a pie, until she wants a piece of it." She also offers such wise sayings as, "The moment is eternal, the problem is it doesn't last."

There is a hilarious spoof on those very, very self-conscious Actors Studio evenings with the aging, utterly self-involved stage goddess, Ashley Glenn Ashley. The Ashley character segues smoothly into the persona of a severely lonely, hostile woman who looks upon almost everyone she comes into contact with as “idiots.” It is a bittersweet portrait of a woman who lost her son in Vietnam, her husband soon after and now is left with a grown daughter who simply annoys her.

The most delightful character of the evening is Joann, a good-hearted little girl who muses over the sad state of public television’s “Mister Rogers” (“If I don’t watch him, who will?”), then manages to rationalize away the pain of watching all the nice animals be killed and eaten on those wild animal shows.

It was also nice to see a more fully developed “SNL” character, the vacuous former model Pat Stevens, who is thankful for months that have 31 days so she can manage to get through her Vogue magazine. And by way of an onstage video monitor, Dunn is superb as the low-life girlfriend of a serial killer who recognizes that the power of television could make her just as great a celebrity as any movie star. Far less successful is her underdeveloped characterization of the ageless icon of 20th century aesthetics, the white-caped Lily Tremont.

Many of the scene transitions are assisted by the thoroughly wholesome stagehand Shelly (Julie Anna Hines), whose prancing about the stage grows more enthusiastic as the evening moves on. Though the Shelly character offers an interesting counterpoint to Dunn’s characterizations, the device is often a distraction that dilutes the energy and focus of Dunn’s performance.

Small Prey

Powerhouse Theater: 99 seats; $15 top


The Powerhouse Theater and Steven Ullman Prods. present a one-woman show in one act. Written and performed by Nora Dunn, directed by David Schweizer, produced by Steven Ullman.


Set design, Scott Siedman; lighting design, Julie Whitaker; sound design, Rob Hume. Opened July 11, reviewed July 12; runs until Aug. 24. Running time: 1 hour.


Cast: Nora Dunn; Julie Anna Hines
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