“ABIGAIL DREARY” IS A HAUNTING HOOT WITH A STRONG EMOTIONAL CORE

(Charles Kruger)

Sidecar Productions‘ mounting of Michelle Ianiro‘s ghostly new play, Abigail Dreary is wonderfully entertaining, and a rare treat for teen audiences and young actors. I’m 50+ and in my second adolescence and I loved it too. What a blast!

There has always been a place in the theatre for the minor genre of ghost stories and supernatural thrillers, but, after The Scottish Play and Doctor Faustus, it is not a crowded field. One thinks, of course, of Coward’s Blithe Spirit and Barrie’s rarely produced (and underrated) Mary Rose. Fun stuff, all of it. Ms. Ianiro’s Abigail Dreary fits well with these other happy hauntings.

What makes Abigail Dreary work so well is the emotional heart of the play, which does not depend on ghosts or the supernatural. The bereaved Weylis family are dealing realistically with Dad’s unexpected death and their language and behavior are completely believable. Twin siblings Nicky (a remarkable performance by Jake Sigl) and Nancy (Eden Neuendorf) are true-to-life in their varying responses to the family crisis and their sibling bonding and bickering is well-written and well-played.  (If you clicked on the link to Mr. Sigl’s name, you may have been puzzled to find a photography page. This is not a mistake. The talented Mr. Sigl is currently a photography student and that is his chosen profession. This is a loss to the theatre as this young man belongs on Broadway.)

There are several other delicately delineated emotional strands to the play. Nicky and his older brother Shawn (Brian Smick) are estranged because Shawn ran away from home and was absent when Dad had his heart attack. This sub-plot is handled beautifully by the playwright and the actors who are never phony, but always true. Lisa-Marie Newton as Sharon, Nicky’s Mom, is effective in her betrayal of the confused mother as Nicky seems to be losing his sanity and his health for no apparent reason (he’s haunted, folks). For all the fun of the supernatural plot, her genuine concern and panic got to me and I cried. Like I said, the playwright, directors and actors get the emotions right.

And then there’s Abigail, a bitchy, creepy, ghostly, evil and genuinely frightening seductive succubus who sets her dead eyes on Nicky. The danger is real, and actress Alissa Anderegg does not let us forget it. The haunting works especially well because Jake Sigl as Nicky never hits a false note: his responses are real, we believe that this is happening to him.

The cast is skillfully rounded out by Tamara Leigh Miller as sympathetic Aunt Jess, Emily Pathman and James Udom as neighboring teens Monica and Adam, Nancy Sale as Mrs. Dreary, Abigail’s frightened mother, and Trevor Bates as William, a previous victim.  Speaking of James Udom, by the way, I cannot finish this paragraph without calling attention to his superb comic timing. His never false but subtly over-the-top reactions are great fun.

Ms. Ianiro says that she wanted to create some really good parts for teenage actors. She has succeeded with bells ringing. Abigail Dreary is a new play and will benefit from further workshopping, but it certainly deserves a chance in New York, Chicago or Hollywood. This should be a play with a future.

Lastly, if you have young teenage actors in your household or circle of friends, they will be especially delighted with this production. So will you. Highly recommended.For further information, click here.

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