Growing up is painful. The body changes, the mind expands, and the heart, well, the heart tries to keep up with the strange horror show. And the world that looks on as this change occurs can often feel like a dangerous place, mysterious and cunning. Such is the mindset of Helen Pafumi’s Abominable, offering us an enigmatic trek to a small town dealing with a strange horror show of its own.
Our story begins deep in the woods, where townswoman Primavera (Carla Briscoe) is telling the audience of a mythical beast her grandmother spoke of before her death. Local junior high students Sam, Esther, and Jacob (Chris Stinson, Maggie Erwin, William Vaughan) find evidence of the thing in the woods, and before long, sightings and footprints are abounding all over town.
Sam has bigger problems than beastly sightings – his body is growing at painful rates, and his best friend, Jacob, has begun using him as a punching bag and prisoner. Sam’s mother, Gia (Liz Osborn) sensing her son drifting violently off into sullen adolescence, tries desperately to understand and protect him.
It becomes clear that the townspeople are in for a bigger nightmare than they bargained for. Esther, Primavera, and local sheriff Ulysees (Sasha Olinick) band together to catch the monster, which is growing more violent by the day.
The audience is able to venture into this black world made of mystery, confusion, and cruelty with the deft and hilarious Briscoe acting as narrator/Primavera (and by comedic relief default, protector.)
It’s own brand of magical realism, Abominable uses the monster and forest to talk about the monster within, and the problems and secrets that compound and leave footprints in our lives. Heavy stuff. Without Primavera’s insights and musings, the piece would risk venturing too far into the abyss. Her presence is akin to the clearing of a thick fog.
As directed by Kirsten Kelly, the sense of doom is at times overpowering. Kristen Morgan’s breathtaking set, made of spiny trees and painted forests, isn’t only a backdrop but a warning sign.
The wavering light in the forest grows even dimmer thanks to the skilled lighting design by Elizabeth Coco. Together they create a stage that feels chilling and uncomfortable.
Closes August 3, 2014
The Hub Theatre at
John Swayze Theatre
9431 Silver King Court Fairfax
1 hour, 30 minutes
Abominable takes chances, grabs at murky and unsettling ideas, in a haunting setting that’s not quite reality and not quite nightmare.
There are multiple themes that float throughout the piece dealing with the beastliness of adolescence, and the beasts we’re capable of becoming when cornered. Some nuances of these themes still operate too independently at curtain, and one is left with the sense of having watched two conceptual sets of twists and turns that come close, but don’t quite meet in the middle.
Still, the gasp of the final scene is reward enough for walking through its haunting woods. Growing hurts, Abominable reminds us, but we can make it out, alive.
Abominable by Helen Pafumi . Directed by Kirsten Kelly . Featuring Chris Stinson, Maggie Erwin, Liz Osborn, Carla Briscoe, Sasha Olinick and William Vaughan. Scenic design: Kristen Morgan . Sound Design: Matthew M. Nielson . Lighting design: Elizabeth Coco . Costumer design: Jane Fink . Props design: Suzanne Maloney . Stage management: William Pommerening. Produced by Hub Theatre . Reviewed by Susan Ameigh.