Allow "Bodega Bay" to warm your heart on a cold winter’s eve. Let its story envelop you, let its humor revive you, and let its honest reflection on one woman’s invisibility be a reminder of our own attempts at significance.
"Bodega Bay," by Elisabeth Karlin, tells the lonely story of the orphaned Louise and her self-centered drug addicted brother Scottie. Left by a wandering mother after her father’s untimely death, she is forced to play the role of adult although still a child herself.
Her self-effacing tendencies start early. With her plans to attend college and become a Veterinary Assistant thwarted, Louise takes a job as an office assistant. Years go by with no activity in Louise’s life until she once again must attend to the needs of her brother.
Scottie is in desperate need of rehab, however, Louise does not have the financial resources to afford his care. Her solution is to reach out to the financially plentiful mother who abandoned them so many years ago. Of course the self-absorbed Scottie is not keen on the idea, fearing that he will be left to fend for himself. But, for the first time in her life, Louise is determined.
Louise begins a cross-country journey that starts in a seedy Staten Island bar and ends on a luxurious beach in Bodega Bay, California. Throughout, she meets various comical characters each adding more depth to the mystery of her mother. Did she leave out of passion or fear? Was she forced or did she go out of her own volition? Was she the victim or the aggressor? This mythical woman is an enigma to both her daughter and the audience.
Every part of this production works. From great writing and tremendous acting, to creative set design, this play is surprisingly good. Elisabeth Karlin crafts an amazing story with an endearing lead character. Louise is vulnerable, meek, and lacks self-confidence but you get the sense that she’s not weak just unaware of her own capacity.
She has spent her life looking after the needs of others and in order to cope with the love and lack of appreciation Louise convinces herself that she is not worthy. She is every woman, every woman who has been taught to value others above herself.
There is a human, first-hand knowledge depiction of Louise that is a testament to Karlin’s writing and Susan Louise O’Connor’s acting. O’Connor’s performance is arresting. Delivered with great force, you will forget that you are watching an actress. Instead, it becomes a documentary; this is Louise Finch from Staten Island on a journey to locate her mother.
You are witnessing the emotional struggles of a real human being. It is simply frightening how well O’Connor brings Louise to life. She is convincingly mild-mannered, uncomfortable, and determined to help even if it is detrimental.
O’Connor is supported by an amazing cast. Nancy Rodriguez powers through a cold to deliver an outstanding performance of the over-bearing Pamela. One half of an odd Mid-West couple, Pamela is not as wholesome as she seems. Rae C Wright amazingly embodies five distinct characters each unique in voice, mannerism, and depiction.
Each role is a fairy godmother, providing necessary clues that aide Louise on her journey; ultimately leading her to Wright’s most important character, Marie Samuels. Is Marie Samuels Louise’s estranged mother? In some magical way has she been guiding Louise all along?
Gerardo Rodriguez provides the night’s best comedic performance with his portrayal of Juan Garza. Simply funny, Juan delivers the best one-liners of the show; if you are not laughing, you just do not have a funny bone. Some of the play’s best moments are when Juan and Louise engage in odd couple like comedic banter.
"Bodega Bay" is a great way to spend an evening. This unassuming comedy-drama provides the best in theatrical writing and acting. At times funny and at times heartwarming, "Bodega Bay" is altogether a delightful experience.
"Bodega Bay" runs through Feb. 17 at The Dorothy Strelsin Theater, 312 W. 36th Street. For information or tickets, call 212-868-2055 or visit www.abingdontheatre.org.