Playwright and Hub’s Artistic Director Helen Pafumi pens a tale that fuses a dark fairy tale with a classic coming-of-age story. Sam (Chris Stinson) is a teen whose abnormally rapid growth spurt causes him to feel like his bones will soon burst out of his skin. Around the time he and his friend Esther (Maggie Erwin) notice strange footprints in the woods, their mutual friend Jacob (William Vaughan) becomes suddenly and inexplicably cruel. As Jacob’s bullying of his two former friends becomes more intense, more footprints are seen and the local populace becomes nervous. As Crucible-like paranoia mounts, Sam must grapple with his own inner beast as the threat of an external monster creeps closer.
Abominable raises important issues that include bullying, but also the broader conflict of what it means to grow from a boy into a man. The script occasionally relies too heavily on its own metaphors, and the story itself seems to be secondary to Ms. Pafumi’s earnest message. However, there is no denying the moments of lyrical beauty in the text, and the result is a story that is more of a dramatic poem than a linear narrative.
The excellent cast of Abominable brings a critical authenticity to the characters. William Vaughan, as the suddenly villainous Jacob, conveys genuine cruelty accompanied by unmistakable self-loathing. Meanwhile, Chris Stinson (as the baffled Sam) draws an effective character arc wherein even as he becomes increasingly tormented, he never falls into a caricature of self pity. His teenage angst is far from cliché; it is dreadfully genuine, prompting this reviewer to look back in horror at his own stormy adolescence. Another particular joy is Carla Briscoe as the passionate Primavera, a sort of latter day gypsy woman whose belief in the supernatural is as natural to her as clipping coupons.
Director Kirsten Kelly and Scenic Designer Kristen Morgan deserve high praise for creating a show with stunning visual impact. Together with a meticulous lighting design by Elizabeth Coco, Abominable is gorgeous to look at. As the characters interact within a thicket of bleached white tree trunks, it is easy to believe that this is a world where anything is possible. A strong sound design by Matthew M. Nielson also contributes to an atmosphere of magical realism, without which the play could not function the way it is intended to.
Although Abominable centers around puberty and teenage bullying, the questions it raises about fear, violence, and the irrational mind are pertinent to any age group. Whether “the beast” is out in the forest or within our own hearts, Abominable leads us to believe that it is within our power to identify it, chase it, and, just maybe, to stamp it out.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without an intermission.
Abominable plays through August 3, 2014 at The Hub Theatre performing at the New School of Northern Virginia -9431 Silver King Court, in Fairfax, Virginia. For tickets, call (800) 494-8497, or purchase them online.
Preview of ‘Abominable’ at The Hub Theatre by David Siegel.