“Little Bee” at Book-It

Myra Platt, Co-Artistic Director of Book-It couldn’t have known when she began adapting Chris Cleave’s heart wrenching novel “Little Bee” for Book-It’s stage how incredibly timely this production would be.

The travails of an undocumented Nigerian immigrant girl in England takes on a much wider perspective today when bodies float in the Mediterranean, innocent children seeking safe haven are preyed upon as they attempt illegal entry to the United States, and when bright young people brought to the United States as babies or youngsters are denied college and a future because they lack “papers.” With each passing year, the number of the world’s endangered and repressed who seek relief in a developed nation grows. And no humane resolution to the problem has yet been proposed. Book-It with this production reminds us of what most of us are ignoring.

In Cleave’s book and on this stage the life of Little Bee in her native Nigeria is endangered. She has witnessed unspeakable horrors but miraculously finds her way to England . . . where she’s not wanted. Lacking papers, she spends years in a dismal detention center, manages to get out and make contact with the English family she met under horrifying circumstances on a Nigerian beach.

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Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako; photo by John Ulman

Little Bee’s sad story is heart wrenching, and this adaptation, played on Will Abrahamse’ spare yet so evocative stage, captures the emotional and too often the deadly cost of this issue.

The gifted cast members led by Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako and Sydney Andrews bring intense feeling and multiple accents to their roles. In addition to the Nigerian voices, we hear the speech patterns of many of England’s class and regional groups. The dialects seemed incredibly authentic. That’s an enormous achievement for Gin Hammond, Dialect Coach. But the downside is that I, and perhaps others, had trouble understanding some of what was said.

It’s a tragic tale, one that can easily sink into melodrama, and I’m afraid this production does that at times. Yet the issues are potent. Through it’s characters and the talented actors who present them, we are forced to address questions of conscience that we ignore to our own peril and dignity.

Through May 17 at Center Theatre in the Armory in Seattle Center, (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org)

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