Marisa Smith and Daniel Arnold in Hannah Moscovitch's Little One. Photo by Fabrice Grover.
Marisa Smith and Daniel Arnold in Hannah Moscovitch's Little One. Photo by Fabrice Grover.

Hannah Moscovitch’s psychological thriller Little One may take place in Ottawa, but its horrors have nothing to do with government.

In this creepy 60 minute one-act, we are introduced to two adopted children, Aaron and Claire, growing up in a middle-class suburb in our nation’s capital. Aaron, the first to be adopted into his new family, is a pretty well-adjusted kid. When Claire arrives on the scene though, that normalcy is turned upside down. Described numerous times by Aaron as a “monster”, we discover that Claire’s extreme and sometimes terrifying behavior comes from a dark past.

Told from Aaron’s perspective as a grown-up, much of their relationship is told in flashback. Moscovitch also layers Claire’s strange obsession with their neighbours on top of the story, which adds an additional, and ultimately revealing, dimension.

The husband and wife team of Daniel Arnold and Marisa Smith give terrific performances as the siblings. Smith gives Claire a combination of deadly stares, weird grimaces and moments of pure lucidity. Under the direction of Amiel Gladstone, you never quite know where she will make her entrance.

But this really is Aaron’s story to tell, and Arnold is its master. With a natural delivery with an attention to the smallest pause or emphasis, he handles Moscovitch’s dark story, and equally dark humour, with skill.  As we watch him gradually simmer to a boil, the combination of frustration, sadness, love and terror are all interwoven with skill.

Brind Linds pounding sound design adds an element of unease. Like the best horror movies you know it will reappear, but jolts you every time.

As we left the Firehall last night, my theatre companion asked “what’s the point”? While there may be an underlying commentary on mental illness and the nature of childhood trauma in Moscovitch’s story, just like any good thriller/horror story, sometimes the ride is enough.

Little One by Hannah Moscovitch. Directed by Amiel Gladstone. A Firehall Arts Centre presentation of an Alley Theatre production. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) until February 13. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.