by Lisa Drostova for East Bay Express, published June 26, 2002
escerpt from 'Three for All'
Rep-to-SubShakes-to-Shotgun: three plays about sacrifices
and female self-fulfillment.
By Lisa Drostova
The most emotionally draining of these three new productions has to
be Maria Irene Fornes' Abingdon Square, presented by the Shotgun Players
at the Julia Morgan Center. In a coming-of-age story, Abingdon Square's
orphaned protagonist Marion marries a much older man for security but
finds love elsewhere, a dangerous proposition at a time when women aren't
even allowed to vote. In a string of short scenes that span a decade
in the characters' lives, we watch as young Marion first yields gratefully
to her marriage, then begins to defy society and her husband Juster
in pursuit of her own spiritual and sexual passion. Everyone makes sacrifices
in this one, losing either their childhood, sanity, or sense of honor
over the course of the play.
Cuban-American playwright Fornes is an unrepentant, unvarnished feminist
who writes in a lyrical, often quite formal-feeling style and claims
the tradition of Beckett and Ionesco as her own. More accessible than
Beckett and emotionally hotter than Ionesco, Fornes' storytelling creates
characters who seem both real and artificial. This tension, and the
often choppy scenes -- one consists entirely of Marion rushing through
the drawing room, putting on a cloak -- can be a little off-putting
for audiences accustomed to a more traditional narrative structure,
but they have their own logic which becomes clearer as Marion comes
into her own.
The set is lovely and simple, a drawing room defined by swags of lacy
fabric and a picture window framing the jungle of Juster's plants, the
only visible wildness in Marion's world. The play's symbolism is extended
through the way the set is used -- both Marion's lover Frank and the
mysterious gardener move between the wild exterior and the staid interior
through this window, trailing the dangers of the outside world in their
wake, while Juster and his son Michael use the doors like the civilized,
well-behaved men they are. Interestingly, the other women (Marion's
relatives) rarely enter scenes from outside, instead materializing quietly,
extensions of the domestic sphere Marion so uncomfortably inhabits ("I
do not know how to run a house," she says seriously, when at fifteen
she is discussing her impending marital obligations).
Abingdon Square ends neither in tragedy nor triumph, but just at the
moment when Marion is making a breakthrough in her understanding of
love. As Fornes says of her work, "Women have to find their natural
strength, and when they do find it, it comes forth with bitterness and
it's erratic." Fornes doesn't patronize her audience by spelling
everything out or making everything okay; the ending, sad and uncertain
as it is, is all the more real for the stylized quality of the rest
of the play.
Original article on the web at