Review by Tulis McCall
(13 May 2010)
Well, well, well!! Get on your pony and hustle over to the Atlantic Theatre if you would like to see some swell story-telling. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of that going on around town these days, specifically at 59E59 and Manhattan Theatre Club.
But back to Gabriel. You know Gabariel – he was the angel that appeared out of the sky to give Mary the good or bad news, depending on how you looked at it. She was an unmarried teenager as I recall, which is not a power position now is it?
Anyway – THIS Gabriel also plummets out of the sky, but from where is not clear. In the more than capable hands of Moira Buffini, what could have been a been-there-done-that story of a soldier depending on the kindness of strangers avoids every cliché and nearly every plot pitfall on the map to become a story that clobbers you where you live.
Gabriel washes up on the beach on the island of Guernsey, part of the Channel Islands off the English coast where the Germans had taken up residence. The best house on the island is an estate belonging to Jeanne Becquet (Lisa Emery). Her family of four women is tossed out on its ear and left to fend for themselves.
Jeanne knows which side of the bread is buttered, so one way she fends for herself is to tend to the German head officer in whatever way she can stomach. When the play opens the baton has been passed to Major Von Pfunz (Zach Grenier) who she labels as a boor and a buffoon. Still, he is the guy in charge, and Jeanne, despite the gossip that she creates on the island, will do what has to be done.
Jeanne’s present family consists of a quartet of women in total. Her daughter Estelle, (Libby Woodbridge) has taken to magic and conjuring as a means of bringing her brother back from the war. Jeanne’s daughter-in-law Lilian Becquet (Samantha Soule) spends her time looking after the land, yearning for her husband, and keeping her identity as a Jew out of sight of the Germans. There housekeeper Mrs.Lake (Patricia Conolly), cares for them all and produces watered down black-market liquor to sell back to the Germans who confiscated the original.
Gabriel’s arrival and questionable identity puts a wrinkle in everyone’s bed sheets. He arrives with a whopping case of amnesia. He can only remember falling and seeing lights in the dark sky. He is, for all intents and purposes, one day old. He is also fluent in both English and German, so much so that neither the Germans nor the English can be certain of who he is.
It is left to Estelle, whose impetuous defiance brings the Germans to the boiling point, to stir the pot. And this pot is filled with extraordinary gems. Major Von Pfunz is not the cool, removed archetype of an occupying officer in charge. As a matter of fact, everyone here wears armor that is riddled with holes. Their normalness leaks out of them against their wishes and in spite of their best efforts to stop them. They color outside the lines. The entire event becomes a lesson in watching colors bleed into one another.
The human heart is on display here. The tale is told from the point of view of the Becquet women, but the view from their bridge knows no boundary. This mostly fine ensemble cast delivers the goods directly to your door. Gabriel is a gift from a writer you do not know yet, but one you will certainly look for in the future.
"Makes for riveting watching."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Electrifies at the start then suffers power outage."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Post
"Totters between naturalism and a ripe symbolism free of irony."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Unfolds as a series of secrets revealed like cards on a poker table. In the end I wasn’t certain who won, but I loved being a good spectator."
Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg
"Despite all the talented folks involved, feel like old news."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"Overheated, overstuffed melodrama framed with groaning symbolism and inhabited by characters who have little resemblance to real people."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Tension-filled, strongly acted" & "A thought-provoking drama."
Jennifer Farrar for Associated Press
"The conflicts produce more emotional anxiety than dramatic tension."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...