Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 8, 2022

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, "ABCD"

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through July 23, 2022
by Jarice Hanson

May Treuhaft-Ali is a young playwright to watch. Her first play, "ABCD," now at the Barrington Stage Company’s St Germain Stage, shows that she can tell a story with multiple viewpoints, strong characters, and some pretty heavy contemporary themes. Her work is bold, in-your-face, and very honest.  The writer also shows a real talent for blending drama and comedy in a way that results in feelings of empathy and compassion.

photo by Daniel Rader 
Carnegie Middle School is a public school in a low-income neighborhood on the brink of being
closed if the teachers can’t get the students to perform better on standardized tests. Columbus Preparatory High School is an elite school where students feel the pressure to do well so that they get into the best colleges. Moral and ethical dilemmas drive the students and the faculty to consider any means necessary to survive in academic competition—often to the point of doing something wrong, while they justify their actions to be right. Themes of family and tradition cut through each scene, leaving the audience with the memory of how high schools play a pivotal role in shaping the lives of young people, learning to function when the stakes are raised, and how race and class define one’s potential for the future.

The eight actors in this ensemble seem very comfortable making their characters strong and clear. Each one is beautifully cast, and every actor is likable and fresh. Director Daniel J. Bryant, originally a Springfield, MA resident, allows the show to pick up energy as the situations become more tense, while allowing his actors to infuse their characters with kinetic energy. 

Kevin Iega Jeff’s choreography adds a joy of whimsy and fun, and Jason Lynch’s lighting design enhances the action on two sides of the stage as scenic designer Baron E Pugh’s revolving lockers morph into a variety of scenes suggestive of multiple locations. It’s challenging to fit so many scenes into a 94-minute show, but this creative team makes it look easy.

There is a lot to like about this show and the audience on opening night responded accordingly. As this ensemble grows together to collectively mine the power in Treuhaft-Ali’s words, we can expect even more shading of the language of seduction and power. There are so many sub-themes, this could be a two-act play, but the show is kept to a length suitable for summer entertainment.