Manuel Herrera and Eve Plumb in
Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage
(© Carol Rosegg)
Manuel Herrera and Eve Plumb in
Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage
(© Carol Rosegg)
In Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage, now at Sofia's Restaurant Downstairs Theatre, co-authors Sarah Saltzberg and Ken Davenport have created a nifty incarnation for its title character (based on the outdated advice book by Abigail Grotke): a relationship expert who is remarkably prim and proper, who lives out of books written for women searching for love before feminism existed, and who spews silly advice on all of her favorite topics.

Unfortunately, the show's over-reliance on audience participation and a somewhat monotonous performance by star Eve Plumb (best known as Jan from The Brady Bunch) undercut the evening's potential for embracing this unusual woman.

Davenport, who has also directed the play, clearly intends for the audience to be part of the action, as Miss Abigail often prompts her mentees. But at least at the performance I saw, a lot of the prodding for interaction fell on deaf ears, and moments that might well have been funny get lost in uncomfortable silence.

Some of the audience participation segments do work well, especially when Miss Abigail invites the audience to the stage to help with games or demonstrations. Indeed, Saltzberg and Davenport's writing shines most during "Love, Lust or Stalking," in which Miss Abigail describes an exaggerated situation and two audience members compete in deciding under which category the story should fall. Also enjoyable is her tutorial on moves called the "Free Stool," "Lick Lip," and "Heiney," which have to be witnessed in person in order to be properly appreciated for their humor.

If Plumb disappoints as Miss Abigail, the production's main delight is Manuel Herrera as Miss Abigail's sidekick Paco, who follows her around like a smitten puppy dog while helping her dispense advice. With his stilted Latino accent and penchant for making the smallest of plaudits funny, Herrera steals the show. In fact, he deserves one of his own.

Hilary Noxon's set does a fine job of demonstrating Miss Abigail's collection of advice books. However, due to the structure of audience seating, not everyone may get to properly see the set. The stage is at about the same level as the audience, a disadvantage for smaller folks. The audience participation segments also affect Graham Kindred's lighting design, with the house lights needing to be turned on and off with too much frequency.