nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
July 18, 2008
Bubby's Shadow begins when Jonny arrives at the home of his sister Debra and tween-aged niece Cara after receiving an alarming phone call that originated from Debra's house, but which neither Debra nor Cara claim they made. Creepy happenings continue that convince Jonny to stay a while, facilitated by the fact that Jonny's social schedule has been freed up considerably by the disintegration of his marriage. During Jonny's stay, family grievances are discussed between the two siblings before more family arrives, which we learn early on is the result of the machinations of the benevolent spirit of the family's dead matriarch, Bubby, who is being channeled through Cara and has brought them all together on the Shabbat for a family reunion.
Playwright Andrew Rothkin writes dialogue very well, and he has devoted much of the play's time to fleshing out the cultural context of this Jewish American family and the dynamics among its members with a believable and natural writing style, but other things feel neglected—namely the development of the story at hand. Most of the perhaps-too-many family issues that are introduced are not particularly urgent or deeply explored, and how they are resolved in the end ultimately feels unsatisfying. And as a ghost story, Bubby's Shadow is neither scary nor even suspenseful. Bizarre events happen, people react, and then they move on to more mundane matters so quickly that the tension never really gets a chance to build.
Much of this I think has to do with how the piece has been directed. One would think that even given the limited resources available to a stage production in a festival setting, director Ramona Pura could muster more ingenuity in creating a sense of the haunting phone calls and unexplained occurrences, or in just setting an overall mood for the piece. In addition, there is little sense of pace to this production, and the dramatic moments of confrontation and revelation between the family members do not feel very well constructed—they are not given much more weight or space than the back-and-forth between Debra and Cara about her clothes. While the context and backdrop of Bubby's Shadow feel authentic, the given circumstances of the story and how it is negotiated often feel contrived.
It can be hard to resist a good ghost story, and Bubby's Shadow has many of the makings of one. But the success of a good ghost story—or any story—ultimately depends on how well that story is told, and in spite of an interesting premise, Bubby's Shadow doesn't quite hit its mark.