The Abduction of Becky Morris
nytheatre.com review by Stephen Cedars
August 17, 2012
There's a lot of wonderfully weird fun to be had in The Abduction of Becky Morris, currently showing as part of FringeNYC. The story follows a pregnant born-and-bred Oklahama woman whose dreams convince her to befriend an incarcerated man whom she had previously ignored in high school. Despite her husband's unsubtle warnings and the potential risk to her unborn baby, she goes all-in on her predictions in hopes that they will ensure her baby's happiness. A bizarre mish-mash of kooky dream sequences, cramped road trip scenes, and local color combine to produce a brisk, enjoyable show, much thanks to the economical but nuanced pacing of director AJ Cermak. The X-Files pastiche keeps building on itself, and playwright and lead actress Alison Crane does impressive work with enjoying the provincial Oklahoma atmosphere without taking any easy jabs. The performances are solid, the comedy is balanced, and overall it's recognizable but fresh.
The play's main issue is a lack of dramatic momentum, mostly due to the imprecise motivations of the central character. Her willful disregard of an otherwise happy life in pursuit of this bizarre goal asks us to either question her psychological health or to embrace a sort of Looney Tunes logic to the world of the play. Either of those would be fine, but Crane's solid performance crafts a Becky Morris who's both too likable and too grounded for either of those motivations to read. It's not that we can't roll along with her choices (especially since they make for some interesting theatre), but the suspension of disbelief is such that the story lacks any significant stakes, and so the exploration of regrets and redemption never go as deep as they could. There's nuance all over the play's situation that we can pull out to understand her, but the questions it evokes—is she so selfish she doesn't realize what this does to her husband? is she incapable of recognizing a demented psyche when she sees it? does she not know what it means to get arrested?—never quite reconcile with the unceasing pleasantness that defines Becky.
The story might occasionally fall flat because of this lapse, but unquestionably The Abduction of Becky Morris is the work of an original voice, and its well-staged eccentricity allows for much theatrical delight, story-be-damned.