If you like your theatrical wry topped with ham, cheese and a side of cornball, you will more than get your fill at the new interactive comedy, "Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage," running just through March 22 at Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island.|
It may not be the healthiest dish, but like real junk food, it is delicious and satisfying. Goofy, good-natured and obvious, the two-character primer on romance and relationships does contain honest morsels of truth and wisdom. But the entertaining meal is often marred by a dragging pace and several "jokes" that fall flatter than a pancake.
Befitting Circa's primary older demographic, the predominant flavor is old-fashioned and nostalgic, though the present-day setting does include references to the Internet, blogging, Twitter and the breakup of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Take these out, and "Miss Abigail's Guide" could have been written 50 years ago.
Penned by Broadway producer Ken Davenport and Sarah Saltzberg, whose previous credits include the musicals "Altar Boyz" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," (Ms. Saltzberg was an original star of the latter), this sitcom-ish reality show, set in a book-lined living room, is a story of the "most sought-after relationship expert to the stars," (think Emily Post meets Dr. Ruth), herself a playful, friendly widow.
Miss Abigail's advice covers subjects such as the perfect kiss (it's all about "true" lip position), what should and shouldn't be discussed on a date, and how to let a man think he's wearing the pants in the relationship. Miss Abigail -- with the help of her wildly enthusiastic sidekick Paco -- takes audiences back to a simpler time before booty calls and speed dating, when "fidelity" was more than just an investment firm.
As the girlish Abigail, Kateri DeMartino is a relatable, confident star who interacts well with the audience, from what I saw of Wednesday's debut. She has to be quick on her comedic feet, and the best parts of the show are the sweet (and plentiful) bits with the audience. The house lights come up often when Ms. DeMartino calls on people to answer questions, to come up on stage, or as she and Jonathan Iglesias (as the incurable ham Paco) drift into the crowd.
After advising us that the most important quality to look for in a mate is confidence, Miss Abigail reviews good places to meet people and shows us how to flirt. Yours truly was roped into an audience-participation bit where three of us sat on stools on stage and were shown how to offer a seat, lick our lips, and show off our backside after dropping a napkin.
After repeating these motions many times, I'm not sure if it was more painful to act out or for the audience to watch. Spontaneity and embarrassment are keys to good improvisational comedy, though, right? I did attempt to twerk at one point.
Like a number of points in this guide, the concept and original joke may have been well-intentioned, but they seemed to drag on excessively. (Billed as a 90-minute comedy, this would have worked more effectively as a brisker, breezier, intermission-less romp. We didn't need the break for Circa to serve dessert, as is its custom.)
In the second half, when Ms. DeMartino called up a tall man named Randy to get a book down from a top shelf, he was instructed to sit on the couch as she read, and he got, well, randy. That was unexpected and funny. A mock game show called "Love, Lust or Stalking" also was cute.
A couple competed by choosing one of the three after hearing different scenarios, and the audience registered its thoughts as well, which at times conflicted with the stage. When Mr. Iglesias read a poetic philosophy of love as Paco plainly pines for his prize (dear Abby), the audience couple amusingly got out of the way of the actors.
The two had some key costume changes, including Ms. DeMartino in a wedding dress with an awkwardly missing back and she endearingly interviewed a couple who have been married more than 60 years (after asking how long audience members have been wed). The man said he noticed his future wife's glow-in-the-dark socks, and she was a cute redhead. The secret to a long marriage is "till death do us part ... we're in love," he said.
Abigail's tips for men include greeting her every day with a kiss, don't take love for granted and don't be stingy with money. For women, be a good listener, never ridicule him in public and let him think he wears the pants in the family.
"Miss Abigail's Guide" is directed by Warner Crocker, who previously helmed Circa's comedy "Things My Mother Taught Me," and co-wrote the hit "Southern Crossroads," which was staged twice by Circa over the span of two years. He'll be back later this month to direct the next relationship comedy, "Always a Bridesmaid" (written by the author of "Dixie Swim Club").
If you go
-- What: "Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage."
-- When: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 22. Doors for the Wednesday through Saturday shows open at 5:45 p.m., with buffet available from 6 to 7 p.m., and the show at 7:15 p.m.; doors for the Sunday performance are at 3:45 p.m., with a 4 to 5 p.m. buffet and show at 5:15 p.m.
-- Where: Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, 1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island
-- Tickets: $47.25, available at the Circa '21 ticket office, or 309-786-7733, ext. 2.