Reviewed by Craig Schneider
Opening night on Friday was beyond Sold Out for the World Premiere of a new play by Abbe Tanenbaum, a working actress and urban organizer from New York City, and daughter of Artistic Director Mark Tanenbaum. The title comes from a quote of Margaret Mead, the cultural anthropologist “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
Abbe’s main job in NYC is trying to find an acting job. You know how that goes. Abbe side gig is helping people organize and declutter their apartments and lives. She never planned on writing a play. But a visit to the apartment of a 70+-year-old client changed all that. While throwing out papers, they came across dozens of handwritten letters from the 1970’s. These were letters to the client (known in the play as Roberta) from women old and young from all over the country, pleading for help and trying to arrange for visits to the underground New York City abortion clinic that Roberta worked at.
Abbe’s initial thought was to throw out the letters, but the client objected. And good for us. And here’s why. Abbe wrote a brilliant play around those letters, Roberta and herself and what it meant to be a woman of those times and maybe how so little has changed since then. With the latest appointment to the Supreme Court, even Roe v. Wade may be overturned after 37 years. With this play, Abbe may now be helping organize the latest generation of female citizens committed to not allowing the clock to be turned back to 1950.
Betsy Butoryak is a natural for the role of “Roberta”. Her Roberta is feisty, a little foul-mouthed and flawed. For this first performance, Abbe played herself with a character known as “Anne”. Like many people in their 20’s, Anne is so caught up in the day to day that there is no thought of the sacrifices and accomplishments of those who came before them and what her future responsibility may be to pay it forward. In Abbe’s case, her response was to write a compelling story because she felt that someone had to do it. Future performances will feature Jess Pierce as Anne.
The letters are brought to life and read word for word by 4 different actors, Amy Eisert, Brit Soule, Jennifer Perry and Leslie Gordon Ford. Great work by the ensemble. You can’t help being moved by these letters. Mark Tanenbaum Directed and Karen Schelinski was the Assistant Director, with Dave Schroeder handling Lighting and Sound. Mark and Abbe hope that this work can be performed at Fringe Festivals and maybe find it’s way back to her in New York.
The play is well written and is full of insight and humor, but may still need some tweaking to reach its full potential. The most ignored element of every production is the audience. Sad to say since they are paying. The average uncommitted theatergoer on Friday night may have felt that they were being lectured to during the last third of the play. I believe that in the ideal theater drama experience the audience has to be challenged and entertained. Overall a great show, so please consider coming to the performances of Friday and Saturday, April 28th and 29th at 8 PM, and Sunday the 30th. Tickets are available at the Door or online at PACA1505.com