Tiny Little Fists Review-- One Screenplay You Won't Want to Miss

A unique and worthwhile experience that cultivates a sense of community between actor and audience, Tiny Little Fists is a force of nature. There were clearly established friendships between many of the actors and those who frequented Chief O’Neill’s. A light atmosphere hung in the air. An overall humorous tone, it seems as though some of the serious obstacles are often overlooked. This screenplay is about feeling out of place and wanting to change one’s cards. Tiny Little Fists both opens and closes with the main character Rory addressing the audience, insisting he does not belong here.

Chief O’Neill’s is a particularly comfortable place. One gets the sensation they are a guest in someone’s living room, enjoying the bar and fireplace. Six large windows open up the attic and create a bigger, more airy sense of space. Completing the homey feeling are books and lamps that sit against the walls and in shelves. Laughter and happy chattering filled the room as the vastly middle aged audience made their way to rows of red chairs; there were no strangers here. Ensemble members greeted the audience before the screenplay began, furthering the sense of friendly community. The laughter faded as the crowd realized it was time for the performance to begin.

Dan Waller (John) Photo by ITC

Tiny Little Fists, put on by the Irish Theatre of Chicago, is brilliantly brought to life through the story of main character Rory, portrayed by Matthew Isler. Rory is an Italian, yet is considered an honorary Irish because he has been raised by adoptive parents Karen and Ronnie, (portrayed by Adrianne Cury), after his birth parents were brutally murdered. Rory recently graduated law school and passed the BAR. He’d like to begin work, however he has a debt to settle with a John (portrayed by Dan Waller), who paid for his education. This doesn’t bode well as John is an arrogant cretin, who works for gang boss Big Frankie. Woefully married to him is Belinda (portrayed by Carolyn Kruse), who has clearly lost her zest for life and former carefree attitude. The rest of the ensemble cast was comprised of spunky love interest Cleo (Jamie Young), silly Sparky (Neal Starbird), coworker of Sparky’s Ciaran (Steve Herson), John’s employee Christopher Ed (Jeff Christian), and stage director Jen Bukovsky.

Matthew Isler (Rory) Photo by ITC

The entirety of the screenplay takes place on February 14th, 1929, the day of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Once the crowd grows silent, Rory takes center stage, in the family restaurant, rambling on about how he doesn’t belong and wishing he knew how he got here. In enter John and Belinda. Everyone immediately halts their tasks and makes accommodations for John. Clearly this is a man in charge. Karen and Ronnie do not want to work for John anymore. Promising that this secret car compartment job will be his last, an ominous sense of foreshadowing can be felt. John entertains himself by bantering with Rory, insisting he find a gal and settle down.

Carolyn Kruse (Belinda) Photo by ITC

The next scene commences and the audience learns of Belinda’s past life as a war nurse. Belinda once treated Christopher Ed after he suffered a gunshot wound to the back, while under the authority of John. Following this incident, John relocated Christopher Ed to Chicago and charmed Belinda into following suit. Belinda gladly follows even though she has reservations about the quality of his character. She knew the kind of business he was involved in, but she was willing to overlook his faults for the lifestyle he was offering her.

Jamie Young (Cleo) Photo by ITC

Knowing of Belinda’s past, the audience further understands her current misery with John as the next scene plays out. She feels as though she has no more value. She’s no longer a practicing nurse, and frankly, she is bored with her life. She feels all she does is sit and look pretty. It becomes clear she regrets following John to Chicago and marrying him. However, love is not completely dead in 1929 Chicago. Rory and Cleo, our young lovebirds, seem to have hope, though Rory shows reservations and Cleo lacks the urge to commit.

The final scene is set with a seething and drunken John. He’s in the restaurant spewing racist thoughts and threatening to shoot Rory in the back. Rory retaliates with his sharp tongue. Belinda is in the background, growing evermore furious with her husband. In a moment of passion, she bashes John over the head with a bar stool. John is dead. Suddenly, shots ring out in the garage next door and police sirens sound. Karen has been shot dead while working on the secret car compartment. Rory and Sparky make the split second decision to place John’s body into the bullet-hole invested car to clear Belinda’s name. In the mass chaos, it becomes apparent that Karen was not the target. Ciaran had meant to kill Big Frankie and leave the gang. As the lights dim, Rory alone is left on stage, once again asking himself how he got here, and where he truly belongs.

Photo by ITC

Tiny Little Fists shows how many people question whether they’ve made the right choices in life. Does anyone ever truly know where they are headed? Life is full of uncertainty. Many struggle to find a place of their own; to create a life of their own. So many questions remain unanswered, but there is always hope for a better future. Beautifully orchestrated, Tiny Little Fists shows what it is like to be stuck in the wrong place in 1929, and asks those of us today whether or not we are in the right place.


ON STAGE NOW AT The Den Theatre 

Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 3:00pm through April 10th!

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