A New Trip to “Bodega Bay” Onstage in New York City

10 02 2013

In “Bodega Bay,” the new play by Elisabeth Karlin now in a brief run at the Abindgon Theatre in New York City, the Hitchcock references fly fast and furious – but those not entirely educated in Hitchcock’s ouevre will enjoy its dark, funny story just as much as those of us who are steeped in the works of the Master of Suspense.

The play focuses on Louise Finch (played with a winning mix of timidity and determination by Susan Louise O’Connor), a woman who’s no longer young, and whose family tragedies have forced her to put her own life on hold. Caring for her younger brother (Brian McManamon), a needy addict, and clinging to a

Susan Louise O'Connor

Susan Louise O’Connor

menial job, Finch has never made time for herself. Now, with money running out, Finch decides to try and find the mother who abandoned them years before. Although she is desperate for more money, there is more to her quest, but exactly what that might be, she can’t say. Her journey takes her on a jagged route south and west, from the home of George Kaplan, her mother’s former boyfriend, to the office of a charming detective stricken with a fear of heights, and on a drive to Las Vegas with a drunk professor who will not remember her when he sobers up.

Left to right: Susan Louise O'Connor, Gerardo Rodriguez and Rae C. Wright

Left to right: Susan Louise O’Connor, Gerardo Rodriguez and Rae C. Wright

Aside from O’Connor, the other five members of the cast each play multiple roles in the play: Rae C. Wright, for example, plays a barfly, a sassy caregiver, the aristocratic Mrs. Wordsmith and more. The cast takes on these roles with complete commitment, bringing the characters to convincing life. Similarly, the small stage serves as a variety of settings; lighting, sound effects and a few bits of furniture establish each location. Karlin takes advantage of the restriction of the theater and small cast, providing updates of what is happening with those not on stage by way of phone messages and appearances by Finch’s coworker back in the office.

Although there is much humor in the dialogue, a melancholy mood hangs over the proceedings: Finch does not truly know whether her mother is even alive as she searches for her, and the dead continue to affect the living as she tries to remember her late father and their family life. And love, when it appears, is less about fireworks than the consoling warmth of commitment.

Peter Brouwer and O'Connor

Peter Brouwer and O’Connor

As a contributor to the website Alfred Hitchcock Geek, playwright Karlin knows her Hitch. I enjoyed the references to movies, characters and situations that echoed those in Hitchcock’s films (including names like George Kaplan, Marie Samuels, Carlotta and Scottie). In speaking with director Sturgis Warner, I learned that there are over 200 such references in the play. The play does not rely on Hitchcock, though; in one scene, Finch meets a couple who are committed never to be more than ten feet from one another – a situation I heard about a few years ago in another context. And while the viewer may catch on to the Hitchcock references, the characters know only their own struggles, right through to the smart, ambiguous end of the play.

“Bodega Bay” runs at the Abingdon Theatre through February 17. Let’s hope it goes on to a longer run in the future.

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