Abingdon Square | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Abingdon Square 

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Abingdon Square, Piven Theatre. When 15-year-old Marion's parents die, she wants to be part of the family that comforted her afterward and so agrees to marry the widowed paterfamilias. But in 1908, as in 2003, teenage girls have active imaginations, and soon her fantasies of a secret lover--cobbled together from popular songs and her cousin's gossip--take on a life of their own.

Even the title of Maria Irene Fornes's play conjures up visions of Henry James characters chafing under social and sexual repression. And in her characteristically enigmatic fashion, Fornes toys with these expectations, leading us down one path, then another. Will Marion and her youthful stepson succumb to temptation? Will she abandon her husband for her paramour? Is that shadowy consort an actual person or the creation of a child thrust prematurely into adulthood?

This Chekhovian situation is as easily played for comedy as tragedy. Piven Theatre director Jessica Thebus instead opts for historical romance, freezing even the most violent emotions into the stillness of a faded daguerreotype, prim formality hinting at passion simmering beneath the surface. This nostalgic atmosphere, delicately rendered by a cast featuring Erica Elam as the sensitive Marion and Kent Hudson Reed as her kind but cold spouse, draws us almost imperceptibly into the intrigues of a society doomed--and liberated--by World War I.

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