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Little Joe Monaghan, Thirsty Theater, at the Pilsen Theatre. Steppenwolf mined the true story of Josephine Monaghan–a diminutive woman who lived as a man in Idaho in the late 19th century–last season, and now Thirsty Theater weighs in with this drama by Barbara Lebow. Here Joe is at the “end of the trail,” plagued by a hacking cough and fever as she reminisces about the sister and son she left behind and fantasizes about her first love, Daniel, and her long-time neighbor and friend Fred. Fluidly directed by Mitchell Newman and enhanced by Dan Harbour’s warm or dreamlike lighting, the play wanders with ease through memory, fantasy, and Joe’s current state.

Martie Sanders is not physically convincing as a weak old man/woman, but she is emotionally persuasive, always making it clear which side of the character is driving her actions or emotions as she smoothly shifts from gay, giggling Josephine to gruff geezer Joe. Alexandra Main is a wonderful match for her as the loyal, loving sister who ultimately betrays Joe. Unfortunately the men suffer by comparison. Tony Stedillie is languidly confident as the cad Daniel but seems false as Josephine’s son. And Leo Harmon as Fred is sometimes a caricature and other times a graceful presence who makes Lebow’s point poetically. The script relies too heavily on exposition, but this genuine production supplies some moving performances and glimmering nuggets of fascinating storytelling.