Annie Abbott’s “Giving Up Is Hard To Do” at the Santa Monica Playhouse is a play about taking intimacy risks.
Now that I think about it, attending a play at the Santa Monica Playhouse always feels a little risky. The lobby is jammed with dusty props left over from other shows- books stacked on a shelf high above the box office window seem perilously close to falling. Glasses on another high shelf seem ready to cascade off. A gilded violin lies on it’s back at the bottom of the stairs like a stranded beetle with legs- oh no, those are artificial flowers splayed around its body. A dress form with a red T-shirt, adorned in pearls, it’s neck topped with a discarded crown, jauntily greets us as we enter. Two tiny crystal chandeliers adorn the ceiling. The lobby is a veritable cornucopia of discarded theatrical props.
Once inside, the theatre is surprisingly intimate- only about 8 rows of 10-12 seats, with two side sections of seats that look woefully divorced from the main house. It is crowned with the most derelict of lighting equipment. Safety chains are unnecessary because the yokes of the antique fresnels and lekos are bolted right into the tracks, their white cords and white plugs plugged into the ceiling. Here and there are 25 foot long extension cords snaking their way amidst the lights. The picture below I took just as the pre-show announcement excoriated the audience to not record or photograph any thing.
Surely my illicit photo does nothing to threaten the intellectual property of the lighting designer; the inventory of any other theatre has so eclipsed this one that an equivalent design would be impossible.
“Giving it Up” begins with Annie Abbott, the writer and solo performer, entering from the back of the auditorium as though she were the next speaker for a self-help meeting geared to nonagenarians, a clever device as she refers to the previous speaker whose topic I will not spoil for you.
Her energy high, her cadence quick, she blurts out a rush of personal observations, describing the prospect of online dating for the over 70 set. She is funny, truthful, unflinching throughout. She switches easily to her recent attendance at friends’ wedding, a couple who met online and have included in their ceremony’s notes their original postings that led them to each other. Annie is stunned by the candor of the woman’s post, her frank description of her sexual and sensual preferences. Her attitude seems to be “I have felt these things as well but didn’t know it was okay to say it.”
And therein lies the success and universality of Ms. Abbott’s material.
For the hour and ten minute performance she candidly discusses her marriage and children. She challenges the privacy usually afforded breast cancer with humor and wades through the pathos of the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband. My husband and I had known Annie’s husband, Ron, with whom she had shared an eventful and rich life, and whose loss left a chasm in hers and her children’s lives. The evening feels a bit longer than its 70 minutes. Occasionally, Annie could stand to project a tad more strenuously. A few patrons were overheard to say “What did she say?”
In spite of these insignificant shortcomings, this solo performance is obviously just one of the ways Annie Abbott has found to fill the chasm and to resume her life. Her journey includes the formative voices of both her grandmother and her grandchildren; we can see her grandmother’s spirit in Annie, as well as Annie’s spirit in her daughter’s children. She provides us all a service here, through her generosity and depth, her wit and candid intimacy and by showing us the path that led her to this quirky venue.