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Review by Brad Rosenstein for San Francisco Bay Guardian, published June, 2002

Nuanced 'Square'
By Brad Rosenstein

Simplicity always baffles people, and it's amusing to see the critical contortions Maria Irene Fornes's plays often provoke. Perhaps the most respected and least produced of contemporary theatrical innovators, Fornes writes plays that are as simple and resonant as fables. Her ascetic style often leaves observers panicking, certain there must be more than meets the eye, and there is, of course, but it's not a test. One of Fornes's richest plays, Abingdon Square is set in New York in the early 1900s and tells the story of Marion (Myla Balugay), a 15-year-old orphan who marries 50-year-old Juster (Christopher Herold) in gratitude but feels increasingly stifled by him as her sexual and spiritual yearnings explode.

It's the stuff of romance-novel cliché, but Fornes uses the familiar situation to sound out a world of subtextual nuance in Marion's growth to womanhood, paralleled by the period's shifting social roles for women. The staccato progression of short scenes is a Fornes signature that also creates the enclosed rhythms of Marion's existence. The cast is uneven in handling the challenges of the stylized language and its depths: Balugay has a bell-like voice and an appealing earnestness, but she doesn't yet possess the acting chops to realize all the dimensions in Marion. Herold, however, is as usual excellent, exploring Juster with subtlety and compassion.

What holds it all together is Shana Cooper's thoughtful direction, which realizes Fornes's precisely calibrated surfaces and the seething emotions underneath. There are clunky moments, and Cooper doesn't always find the staging choices to support her vision, but the tone and texture of this Shotgun Players production are frequently on the money. There's more to the play than gets expressed here, but this is a highly creditable rendering of a girl's growth from hothouse adolescence to a more mature understanding of the nature of love.

'Abingdon Square' runs through July 6. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m., Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College, Berk. $10-$25. (510) 704-8210.


Original article on the web at


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