Darkly comic ‘Abdication!’ doesn’t quit uplifting at Silver Spring Stage

A giddy romp of three short plays about hanging in there.

Abdication! by Naya James Sonnad is a giddy romp about giving up.

The show consists of three one-act, darkly comic, near-future plays on the theme of people trying to escape their lives as they know them, connected by kooky song-and-dance interludes by an endlessly energetic “Narrator” (Maureen Freshour) and two “Valets” (Patrick Cochran and Christopher Farrar). Freshour’s flashy personality, energetic dancing (choreography by Aditi Bhattacharya), and excellent singing both empower and conflict with this message, and as her companions morph from unenthusiastic amateurs to crying cowboys to creepy robots, the vibes get more and more eerie.

Narrator and Valets: Valet 2 (Patrick Cochran), Narrator (Maureen Freshour), and Valet 1 (Christopher Farrar) in ‘Abdication!’ Photo by Hart Wood.

The first playlet, “Stuck,” portrays an exhausted young man breaking to his family that he has decided to retreat into what is colloquially known as “the goo” — a Matrix-like state where he can live a virtual life away from the responsibilities of trying to be what his family expects. This play, seemingly closest to our own time, is a reductio ad absurdum of the modern “failure to launch” young man spending his life playing video games. It is also a bittersweet meditation on family, as Tommy (the affecting John Lynch) tries to get through to his siblings and parents that it is nothing that they did that has made him want to give up on life, but simply the pointlessness of it all. This is what he really wants, rather than to feel like he’s constantly failing at what they want for him, and he is desperately hoping for their support. Despite getting off to a subdued start, the act has some cute bits with a Siri-like AI and funny portrayals of a very New York Italian family, particularly the touching mother and father (Susan Holliday and Stan Rosen). Anyone who has recently raised — or been — a young adult in our hypercompetitive culture will be touched by “Stuck.”

TOP ‘Stuck’: Giada (Susan Holliday), Angela (Juliana Voss), Loretta (Emily Isaac), Sofia (Sabrina Bowers), and Antonio (Stan Rosen); ABOVE ‘Love Lobotomy’: Joe (Joshua Prescott), and Mara (Imaan Khan), in ‘Abdication!’ Photos by Hart Wood.

The second, “Love Lobotomy,” picks up energy and ventures further into sci-fi territory with an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–like laboratory, where people who have been hurt by love can come to surgically rid themselves of the highs and lows of emotional experience — but two people about to have the procedure decide to take one more chance at romance, even if it appears doomed. Imaan Khan and Joshua Prescott do a capable job presenting the lovers moving rapidly through their relationship, although Prescott seems to morph into almost an entirely different person. David Gamble presents a funny doctor who really needs to heal himself with his own procedure, and Alex Shawn provides a spot-on parody of a smarmy, predatory newscaster trying to wring every bit of story out of their subjects. The play makes excellent use of video interludes by Leon Swerdel-Rich on a screen at the back of the stage.

The third act, “Color Scheme,” the most distant from our own reality, presents a rainbow world where happy people are assigned colors (and apparently personalities) at the age of 10, but when one person wants to apply for an official color change, the chromatic system becomes much more sinister. The segment is introduced by an almost Sesame Street–like video (by Don Lampasone) about the process, with Eric Edwards and Brett Murray as singing “Conductors” instructing little “Sally” (Izzy Miller) on what to expect. Suddenly, attention shifts back to the stage, where Viola (Madeline Mustin) arrives at a classic bureaucratic office where she informs two insufferably cheerful “Yellows” (Jenny Gleason and R. Anne Hull) that she wants to apply for a color change. (It is worth mentioning here that costumer Emily Isaac very effectively arrays the actors in colors to match their characters. Her attention to detail also shows earlier in “Love Lobotomy” when she manages to match the color of the doctor’s stethoscope to the newscaster’s suit.) Viola is a meticulous, organized Purple, but she wants to be an Orange, a change that everyone seems to find somewhat alarming. They are interrupted by an obnoxious Karen, the “Lady in Red” (Danielle Taylor), who demands special treatment, making it clear what personality type Reds turn out to be. When Viola continues to insist on her color change, the first bureaucrat, the ineffectual “Mr. Brown,” is replaced by the “Gray Lady” (Nancy Somers), a creepily smiling, totally terrifying, six-foot-tall column of steel. She presents the perfect portrayal of the system sweetly steamrolling over anyone who dares to step out of line. Mustin’s Viola makes a tour-de-force defense of her originality and how people shouldn’t be confined to assigned colors, but she has no more hope of prevailing than did 1984’s Winston Smith. It is a masterstroke of irony on the part of the playwright to warp the rainbow, the happy symbol of modern-day pride and individual expression, into a tool of conformity and oppression.

‘Color Scheme’: Lady in Red (Danielle Taylor) and Viola (Maddy Mustin) in ‘Abdication!’ Photo by Hart Wood.

Each of the three mini-plays ends with a feeling of failure, and all along the Narrator’s song implies this is the point — that if each day is too painful you can just abdicate responsibility for it and the next day will erase it. Give up! she seems to crow and croon, it’s so much easier! But in the end, she barges back in and turns that message on its ear. This is why the subtitle of the show is “A Cautionary Fairy Tale.” These plays, it turns out, are a warning of what might be if we allow the difficulties and despairs of life, and the lure of technology, to dull us to the fact that we can never stop fighting.

Giving up could have been the fate of the play itself. Premiering in New York in 2019, Abdication!’s run, like so many others, was cut short by COVID. It was not until now, when Silver Spring Stage reached out to the theater world for new stories to tell, that Director Yvonne Paretsky was able to arrange with the playwright to revive the show in the D.C. region. And revivify it she has, making excellent use of the Stage’s unique diamond space and capably corralling a very large cast, multiple scenes, and multimedia elements.

Abdication is darkly funny, thought-provoking, and ultimately uplifting. It beams out the message that we must keep fighting, even when things seem hopeless.

It is definitely the show we need right now.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Abdication! A Cautionary Fairy Tale plays through February 11, 2024 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm) at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. Purchase tickets ($23.25– $26.25 including fees) online. For more information call (301) 593-6036, visit the website, or email [email protected].

COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged but not required.

by Naya James Sonnad
Directed by Yvonne Paretzky
Produced by Seth Ghitelman


Narrator – Maureen Freshour
Valet 1 – Christopher Farrar
Valet 2 – Patrick Cochran

Tommy – John Lynch
Loretta – Emily Isaac
Angela – Juliana Voss
Sofia – Sabrina Bowers
Antonio – Stan Rosen
Giada – Susan Holliday

“Love Lobotomy”
Mara – Imaan Khan
Joe – Joshua Prescott
Lilo – Katie Warner
Dr. Zadlow – David Gamble
Rick Rarey – Alex Shawn
PA Announcer – Eric Edwards

“Color Scheme”
Conductor (video) – Eric Edwards
Sally (video) – Izzy Miller
Lady in Red – Danielle Taylor
Viola – Maddy Mustin
Mabel – Jenny Gleason
Donna – R. Anne Hull
Blaise – Isaiah Raxsdale
Mr. Brown – Don Lampasone
Gray Lady – Nancy Somers

Assistant Director – Fletcher Lowe
Stage Manager / Assistant Producer – Robert Summers-Berger
Assistant Stage Manager – Arooba Nadeem
Choreographer – Aditi Bhattacharya
Lighting Designer – Don Slater
Costume Designer – Emily Isaac
Scenic Designer – Nancy Linden
Props – Mary Ghitelman
Director of Photography – Leon Swerdel-Rich
Assistant Director of Photography – Don Lampasone
Sound Designer – Fletcher Lowe
Artistic Liaison – Ken Lechter
Composer – Josh Cleveland
Intimacy Choreographer – Helen Aberger

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Jennifer Georgia
Over the past [mumble] decades, Jennifer has acted, directed, costumed, designed sets, posters, and programs, and generally theatrically meddled on several continents. She has made a specialty of playing old bats — no, make that “mature, empowered women” — including Lady Bracknell in Importance of Being Earnest (twice); Mama Rose in Gypsy and the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at Montgomery Playhouse; Dolly in Hello, Dolly! and Carlotta in Follies in Switzerland; and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady in London. (Being the only American in a cast of 40, playing the woman who taught Henry Higgins to speak, was nerve-racking until a fellow actor said, “You know, it’s quite odd — when you’re on stage you haven’t an accent at all.”) She has no idea why she keeps getting cast as these imposing matriarchs; she is quite easygoing. Really. But Jennifer also indulges her lust for power by directing shows including You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Follies. Most recently, she directed, costumed, and designed and painted the set for Rockville Little Theatre’s She Stoops to Conquer, for which she won the WATCH Award for Outstanding Set Painting. In real life, she is a speechwriter and editor, and tutors learning-challenged kids for standardized tests and application essays.


  1. Thank you for this review! I am the actor who played Rick Rarey, and we are so grateful you took the time to write about us.
    I could not find the reviewer’s contact information and need to call in a correction — my pronouns are they/them/theirs, and in the section on Love Lobotomy I was misgendered as “her.” I respectfully ask that this part of the article be edited to accurately reflect my gender and pronouns.
    I’m happy you enjoyed the show, thanks again!


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