Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic
Berlin, CT - Connecticut Cabaret Theatre is one of the first east coast venues to present ‘Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage,’ a comedy by Ken Davenport and Sara Saltzberg. Kris McMurray is the owner and artistic director of this cabaret theatre in Berlin that is marking their 20th year of entertainment in July and he both produced and directed this cute show. During his always entertaining curtain speech on opening night, Mr. McMurray described the off-Broadway smash that starred Eve Plumb then Joyce Dewitt as “Dear Abby meets Dr. Ruth” and encouraged audience participation to make it even better. He suggested that a cocktail and a dirty mind would help patrons appreciate all the jokes and mentioned that his 94 year old aunt caught every one of them during the dress rehearsal.
Before the show, the character of Paco (Jon Escobar) came onstage to prepare Miss Abigail’s set for the show. Paco then invited a lady in the audience onstage to dance with him to “La Bamba” and he was pleased when everyone sang along. The helpful ushers told everyone as they were seated that intermission would be held before the show, moving the curtain time to 8:15pm; in truth, it was almost 8:30pm and the show ran a bit later than expected. The ladies seated at my table would have preferred starting at 8:00pm and speculated that the reason for the delay was because Miss Abigail had not arrived yet. Upon learning that I had seen this comedy at Seven Angels (starring the talented Michelle Gotay and Mauricio Pita,) they actually asked me if I was Miss Abigail.
On each table were copies of a form to submit questions about dating, mating, marriage (or even divorce) for Miss Abigail to answer onstage. The ushers collected the completed forms during the pre-show intermission. When Miss Abigail’s theme song began to play, the relationship expert (played by Julie Lemos) took to the stage to share her “vast knowledge of every piece of relationship literature known to mankind.” There is an (outdated) book for every topic that comes up and the strapping young Paco is ready to provide whatever help Miss Abigail might need. Audience members were called to the stage to perform as “flirting athletes” (the ones chosen on opening night were hilarious and no, there was not the “bend and snap”) and there was a lively game show of “Love, Lust, or Stalking” with two other volunteers. Both actors had to be ready for anything in these bits and they showed off their fine improvisational skills.
The best part of this production was the talent of the two performers. Ms. Lemos, who has been involved with this venue for a long time, is still not really old enough to look the part of the venerable Miss A and Mr. Escobar (El Gallo in ‘The Fantasticks’ and Lucas in ‘The Addams Family’) appears a little older than the character of the smitten Paco is written. However, they both brought such charm to the roles that I couldn’t help but come along for the ride. This Miss Abigail was both wise and funny; even if her advice is as dated as the books she reads, we can’t help but love her. Such is her nature that when she talks about the F-word, she means ‘flirting.’ And her Mexican assistant, despite bordering on being politically incorrect, is spot on when brought to life by Mr. Escobar. The audience laughed at the cute relationship of the pair, but the biggest laughs were definitely when the audience members were up on the stage.
The simple set of Miss Abigail’s book-lined office was fine and featured a large sign with the show’s title. Costumes were limited but effective. One note on props: I thought that the various tomes read by Miss Abigail could have had better fitting covers.
Coming up at CCT this season are some impressive offerings. ‘The Seven Year Itch,’ a comedy by George Axelrod, opens on Feb. 17. ‘Life Could Be A Dream,’ a 50’s 60’s jukebox musical by Rodger Bean, sounds like it will be a dream when it opens on March 31. One of Mr. McMurray’s all-time favorite comedies, ‘The Cemetery Club’, opens on May 19. ‘My Way: A Musical Tribute to Sinatra’ with more than fifty Sinatra songs, will take to this stage opening on July 7. And finally, Kelly Boucher returns to this venue to star in ‘Tea at Five,’ a one-woman comedy by Matthew Lombardo that tells the story of Katherine Hepburn opening on Aug. 18.
Photo of Jon Escobar and Julie Lemos courtesy of Connecticut Cabaret Theatre