Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex (see the Off-Off List). By Elisabeth Karlin. Dir. Sturgis Warner. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 35mins. One intermission.
In plays, road trips are never about the pretty scenery; instead, they explore the murky internal terrain of a stalled character. As Louise Finch—a meek, birdlike woman who, in her 37 years, has never left Staten Island—Off Broadway stalwart Susan Louise O’Connor registers every speed bump, pothole and detour on her expressive face during her journey to self-discovery.
After her abusive, drug-addicted brother ends up in detox for the umpteenth time, Louise sets out to find their long-lost mother, ostensibly to ask for money. Along the way, she meets a succession of quirktastic characters—an inebriated professor, an unhappily married New Age couple, a swarthy private eye and a handful of her mother’s damaged lovers—each of whom teaches Louise something about herself.
Elisabeth Karlin’s dramedy, produced by the veteran Abingdon Theatre Company, is too long by half, yet there are many moving moments. Onstage almost the entire time, O’Connor makes you feel every epiphany, and the versatile ensemble expertly differentiates varied roles. Since the action veers from natural to absurd at every turn, director Sturgis Warner smartly sets a dreamlike mood (helped immeasurably by the wistful oeuvre of Nat King Cole), which even carries over to the inevitable mother-daughter reunion. Instead of being maudlin, Bodega Bay is mysterious; buried deep inside us, we realize, are the answers we were looking for all along.—Raven Snook