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Michael Abrams

Chasing the River

February 12, 2020

The subject matter of "Chasing the River" is, of course, viable, but the play is not as nuanced and insightful as one would hope—nor is it particularly gripping. Sometimes the action feels stagey, and at other times it seems undercooked. Particularly problematic is the role of Nathaniel who is written and acted quite one-dimensionally. True, Giebel offers at least one surprising aspect of the character: We learn that he wanted a sports-playing boy-child, not daughters, and that he treated the tomboyish Kat (then called “Katie”) as a substitute for a son. We learn that he was able to gain Katie’s trust, which he then insidiously betrayed. We never wonder, however, whether he is anything other than an unrelenting nightmare of a person. There are scenes in which we see him being pleasant to Katie, but his bullying monstrousness seems always apparent. Most creeps—even the alcoholic ones—manage to hide their ugly sides now and then. [more]

Sister Calling My Name

February 7, 2020

An author can be too close to his or her material so that the real story fails to be revealed. Inspired by his own family events, Buzz McLaughlin’s Sister Calling My Name has a fascinating premise but that is not enough. In relating a faith-based story of Michael, a man who has avoided for 18 years his mentally disabled sister Lindsey, a ward of the state since being a teenager, McLaughlin repeats lines and plot points endlessly while failing to give us enough details to bring the characters to life. The play seems to go round and round in a circle. The script note that Lindsay’s disability manifests itself in simply locking into an idea and going with it until another takes its place does not help an audience who must listen to the same dialogue over and over. Peter Dobbins’ production for Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and The Storm Theatre does little to make the characters more than labels. [more]

I Never Sang for My Father

September 14, 2019

The trouble is Lee’s almost catatonic approach to Gene.  He speaks in a toneless monotone and adapts a monolithic physical approach, his hands constantly held stiffly at his sides.  When he does erupt in anger it registers as bizarre overacting rather than the culmination of a life of living under his father’s thumb.  This leaves an emotional vacuum in the center of the play.  Even when he delivers the poignant punch line—“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship”—what should have been an emotional wallop becomes a whimper. [more]

Ah, Wilderness!

February 3, 2019

In three acts, we get idealized Norman Rockwell-style Americana. As in his dramas, O’Neill’s sense of structure is totally idiosyncratic. Ah, Wilderness! is shorter than his dramas but still feels long at two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission but it is absorbing nonetheless. That’s due to its novel perspective. Instead of the cheapskate father and drug addict mother in Long Day’s Journey into Night, we get idealized perfect parents. The young hero here is set on a path of moral rectitude rather than dissolution. O’Neill offers an uplifting fantastical reworking of his well-documented grim upbringing where everything for a change is happily resolved. [more]

The Rainmaker

May 6, 2018

“Never judge a heifer by the flick of her tail” is just one of the many kernels of down home wisdom in playwright N. Richard Nash’s lovely piece of Americana, The Rainmaker. It’s been tenderly revived by the Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and The Storm Theatre Company with every role perfectly cast. [more]

Death Comes for the War Poets

June 17, 2017

In the play which is billed as “a dramatic verse tapestry,” playwright Joseph Pearce ably weaves together poems and diary entries by Sassoon and Owen with extracts of other writers of the era.  Though Mr. Pearce identifies the characters as the English Sassoon and Owen, he provides scant biographical details about them. From this treatment, they could be any British young men of that time.  [more]

Deconstruction

March 14, 2017

The acting isn’t detailed or expansive enough to make Leaf’s words come alive or give the slightest notion of the intelligence of these three. Ms. Dobbins’ McCarthy is far too girlish. Yes, the playwright’s point is to show how even an intellectual can be seduced by a good-looking person, but she never boils over. The closest to anger she achieves is petulance. [more]

Divine Comedy

October 9, 2016

The problem with Peter Dobbins’ productions is not the quaint spiritual underpinnings of the plays but the fact that they are directed too leisurely and consequently do not generate any laughs, fatal for comedies. Several of the actors are innocuous where they should be more incisive. The rhythms of both plays seem much more formal and genteel than they need to be. The short, curtain raiser plays like an extended anecdote, while the longer, more famous play is a comedy of manners play that seems rather thin for its length. The stilted, old-fashioned translations from the French also do not help. [more]

Collaborators

January 22, 2016

Ross DeGraw as Joseph Stalin and Brian J. Carter as Mikhail Bulgakov in a scene from John Hodge’s [more]

Gigi

January 21, 2015

Not only does Anita Loos’ adaptation of "Gigi" not make us miss the famous Lerner and Loewe songs, its intimacy and sophistication make it a fine play in its own right. This first major New York revival staged by Peter Dobbins captures the perfect graceful style needed and keeps us entertained at all times. Under his astute direction, Connie Castanzo in the title role and Kathleen Huber and Evangelia Kingsley as her sophisticated relatives give memorably evocative performances. [more]