BWW Reviews: Abingdon Theatre Company's IT HAS TO BE YOU Offers Good Laughs
As the temperatures fall and leaves change color, most people start preparing for the fall family holidays that are just around the corner. Knowing you'll soon be surrounded by your own family, kooky or not, the World Premiere production of Catherine Butterfield's IT HAS TO BE YOU is offering New York audiences the opportunity to trade in their families and spend some time with the one she has created.
Catherine Butterfield's writing offers some nice laughs and her characters are interesting enough to pull audiences through a majority of the play. The first 10 or so minutes of the play are clunky, but once the second scene is complete the flow and pacing keep the audience engaged. However, her plot feels like it owes a lot to Christopher Durang's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE. On the verge of displacement like Vanya and Sonia, Catherine Butterfield's Mindy and Frank are concerned that they're about to lose access to their inheritance. This fear comes in the form of Burt, their mother's new piano-tuning, artist boyfriend who happens to be about their age. Enter the successful and younger sibling Jed (i.e. Masha). Always his mother's favorite child, he is just content to see her happy. However, Mindy and Frank convince Jed to take action, which leads to consequences for all involved.
Like any comedy, the scenario isn't terribly complicated. It's easy to follow and allows the humor to flow from the children's horrific senses of entitlement. Mindy is approaching 50, single, and involved in an on-again, off-again relationship with a married man. The current economic crisis is causing mid-40's Frank's tuxedo shop to suffer, and his wife is threatening to leave him unless business picks back up. They stand to lose a lot if Burt is some predator seeking to increase his bank accounts should he become a widower. Yet, it is the resolution of this play that is most problematic. As is the case for most comedies, despite the atrocities said and done, all characters emerge relatively unscathed and in a buoyant, positive place. But, there is a layer added to the character of Frank that implies he sacrifices his happiness and his own selfhood to ensure another character's happiness. His ending appears falsely positive and seems to fly in the face of modern societal changes for the better, and it left me pondering why this seemingly innocuous comedy that wasn't attempting trying to make a statement made this particular one.
Direction by Stuart Ross ensures that Catherine Butterfield's characters read realistically throughout the show. Their intentions and motivations are clear and sensible. Even the problematic ending makes some sense, especially through the lens of a young male who recently relocated from the conservative South to the more liberal Greater NYC area.
As Mindy and Frank, Catherine Butterfield and Adam Ferrara are equally unlikeable and sympathetic. Like many Americans they are suffering under the weight of financial obligations. Their fears are disgusting but justifiable, which makes them relatable. In this situation wouldn't we all be a little on guard? Wouldn't we all wonder if the new young enough to be her son boyfriend wasn't some conman looking to score an easy, seven-figure (or more) inheritance? Stepping into these skins and fleshing them out well, both Catherine Butterfield and Adam Ferrara keep the laughs coming as they plot to expose what they find heinous about Burt.
Peggy J. Scott plays Dorothy with spry energy. She may be 75, but she has found a second wind in life and is youthful, witty, and completely charming. Burt has rekindled her passion for life. Inspired by artistic photos she took in secret, Burt has encouraged her to return to the world of photography and to see about getting her work shown in galleries. This side of Dorothy is one that her children do not know and have never experienced, and Peggy J. Scott's portrayal of the chipper woman gives Mindy and Frank plenty of ammunition in their crusade against Burt.
Peter Daveport's Burt is a genial and compassionate man that age-wise falls comfortably between Mindy and Frank. In addition to tuning pianos, he is a skilled artist as well. In his portrayal of the character, we never see him as the monster Mindy and Frank want him to be. Instead, we see a kind-hearted man who genuinely cares for Dorothy.
Jeffrey C. Hawkins' Jed is a Hollywood set decorator, Dorothy's favorite son, and an openly gay male. It is refreshing to see a gay character who doesn't play into most of the stereotypes. Sure, his ring tone is Beyoncé's "Get Me Bodied," but his homosexuality doesn't define him in the play. He is successful at his job, a loving son, and a loyal brother. Like all the characters in the play, he has his own shortcomings and at the suggestion of his siblings he takes a huge misstep that costs him quite a bit in the grand scheme of things.
Ian Paul Guzzone's keen Set Design transforms Abingdon Theatre Company's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre's intimate black box into Dorothy's opulent Massachusetts home in an abstract but visually striking way. This is done with cleverly hung frames, smart furniture choices, and an elegantly painted back wall that shifts from one shade of blue to another.
Catherine Butterfield's IT HAS TO BE YOU is not a perfect comedy, but it does entertain. Her writing and the quality performances delivered by the cast and crew allow audiences to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and their own lives. For two hours we are transported to Massachusetts and can truly revel in watching other people deal with their problems. Perhaps some spirits will learn to rejoice in the happiness of their parents, siblings, or friends because IT HAS TO BE YOU touches them in some way. Most likely though they'll simply laugh, enjoy a fun play at an affordable price, and make plans to visit Abingdon Theatre Company again in the future.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 55 minutes, including one intermission.
Performances for the world premiere of IT HAS TO BE YOU began on October 3 and continue through October 26 at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues). Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 2pm. Please note: there is no 2pm performance on Saturday, October 4.) Tickets are $25. For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.abingdontheatre.org.