Abdication! By Naya James
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Millennials get a bad rap for their supposed propensity to tune in (to their cell phones) and drop out (of jobs and relationships). But Abdication!, Naya James’ new triptych of one-act plays about the phenomenon, brings insight, humor and a touch of science-fiction to the phenomenon—which is by no means restricted to any single age group
Having its New York premiere as part of Theatre for a New City’s 2019 “Dream Up” Festival, Abdication! tells three micro-“Twilight Zone” stories of people willing to go to extremes in vain attempts to flee their unhappy lives.
Stuck is set in a society where people can “go into the goo”—slang for hooking themselves up to the full virtually reality of their choosing. The comedy arises when a nerdy young Italian-American man tries to explain to his close-knit sitcom family (over dinner, of course) why he has decided to take this radical step. They prefer to think that finding the right girl will cure his unhappiness.
The second playlet, Love Lobotomy, takes things a step further. Two people who meet at a clinic to undergo “Amigdalar Resurfacing,” (a.k.a. a “Love Lobotomy”) to make them immune to love, actually fall in love right there in the waiting room. We then go with them as their relationship poignantly blossoms, then withers, then dies. In the end, they’re back at the clinic, sadder but wiser. The play is subtitled “A Tragicomedy in 3 Episodes” and this segment gets closer to the heart than the others, thanks especially to author Naya James onstage as the disappointment-bound young woman.
The third short play, Color Scheme, takes place in a dystopian “near alternative future” where everyone has been sorted into color-coded groups based on their personalities. The play chronicles the Kafkaesque battle of a “Purple” (passive?) woman who feels she ought to be an “Orange” (pushy, rude, and a little crazy?) and collides with a “Grey” (officious and bossy?) who is determined to keep Purple purple. The question marks are there because the play offers only glimpses about how each color is defined, though anyone can relate to the lady in purple’s struggle against bureaucracy. As Viola, Meredith Rust makes us feel her anguish.
The evening is narrated in song by a top-hatted Astaire-like host (Trenton Clark) who is backed up by two largely silent comic goons (Stephen Keyes and Topher Wallace). Though these segments need polishing, they help maintain the show’s alternately funny and bleak tone.
The cast also features Amanda Cannon, Alan Cordoba, Janet Donofrio, Cesar Lozada, Mike Ivers, Sid Ross, and Tony Scheer.
Directed by Lucia Bellini, Abdication! played a limited run through September 7 at the TFTNC’s Johnson Theater Space in the East Village section of Manhattan.