Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage
nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
June 17, 2011
In the Downstairs Theater of Sofia's Restaurant on 46th Street in Midtown, wedged between the Hotel Edison and the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, is a sweet little divertissement fueled by two strong comedic performances. Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage, written by Sarah Saltzberg and Ken Davenport, based on the book with the same title by Abigail Grotke, opened this past November with a different cast, featuring Eve Plumb, known for playing Jan Brady on The Brady Bunch.
In case you don't know who the real Miss Abigail is, she is an advice columnist and blogger who started collecting classic advice books while attending Greensboro College in the 1980s. She has nearly 1,000 books dating from the 1820s to the 1970s, and her advice combines conventional wisdom and kitschy nostalgia that might be considered somewhat impractical today. It is appropriate then that upon entering the theater there is a study lined with hundreds of books. Hilary Noxon's set hits the right tone of being lightly authoritative and oodles of fun.
The main reason to see this show is Joyce DeWitt, who is now playing the title role. She keeps things moving during the intermissionless 80 minutes of what is, true to the title, essentially a lecture told in several clever ways on how to date, mate, and marry. She looks great without being plastic fantastic, keeping nearly the exact same figure she sported in the L'Eggs commercials of the early '80s. She still has the comedy skills that made her so good as Janet Wood in Three's Company. She also has retained the stamina and energy that allowed her do almost twice as many episodes of that series as Suzanne Somers. But this show isn't just a reminder that she had that moment. DeWitt is a real theater performer who can hold her own.
Playing Paco, her assistant from Mexico, is Mauricio Perez, who brings a lightness and precision to his delivery without ever being ironic. He can give off a certain swagger at times but he balances it out with a believable innocence. He plays rather cheesy things quite elegantly. Not an easy feat. DeWitt and Perez play off one another nicely and are able to keep the audience engaged and, at times, in check. There is a lot of audience interaction in this piece and the actors had to work hard to keep those sections from crashing and burning. It would have been nice if the audience could have met them halfway instead of giving mostly inappropriate answers, trying-too-hard-to-be-funny answers, or no answers at all.
Having said that, there was one great piece of advice from a couple in the audience on the night I attended who had been married fifty-seven years: keep laughing.
I don't know if they are actually quoting real source material in this show but many titles such as How to Win and Hold a Husband by Dorothy Dix are mentioned. Advice on whether you should date someone at work is given. In this case we're reminded that you shouldn't "get your honey where you get your money." Many other simple bits of wisdom are distilled: "the most attractive part is on the inside," "confidence is the most datable trait," and "a good piece of property gets better with age."
One of my favorite moments in the show was when they brought up a male and a female audience member to play "Love, Lust, or Stalking." It felt so much like a game show from the 1970s, it deserved to have Johnny Olson announce it. Another favorite was the spoof film titled "How 2 Hump." The conceit is that it was created by Paco (it was made in real life by Randy Blair) to send up the black-and-white sex instruction films of the 1950s. Yes, you will see cartoon sperm and cross-section diagrams of genitalia. And you will laugh.
It's not Ibsen or Chekhov but if you're looking for light entertainment where you're encouraged to hit the cash bar and return with your drinks to your seats, as the folks seated next to me did five times, this is the show for you. If you are stumped on where to take your relatives in from out of town, this is a good bet. If you're on a first date, you might want to see this to get off on the right foot.
I hope this show is the beginning of a new stage of Joyce DeWitt's career. She deserves it. To that end, I would like to plead with the producers of the show to take the Dame Edna cartoon face off the logos and replace with it something that looks more like Ms. DeWitt. She deserves that too.