There’s a paradox informing Len Jenkin’s Abraham Zobell’s Home Movie : Final Reel. Abraham, a guy approaching his autumnal years, leaves his sickbed to undertake a journey. A woman from his past who died accidentally and suddenly has lingered in memory since the days of early manhood, thus coloring his worldview. Abraham has a mission to fulfill, if he is ever to achieve closure. He will revisit the place where his lost love drowned, to bid a final farewell. Along the way he encounters other characters, rich and strange, haunted by their own unresolved issues : a sweet young girl stalked by a pathological “boyfriend,” a rabbi who occupies a crumbling, deserted, temple, Uncle Monday, who shares his tormented preoccupation with romance that has been, to put it diffidently, disappointing.
Characteristic of other plays by Jenkin, Abraham Zobell’s Home Movie is brimming with quirky details, bizarre individuals, and a kind of urgent, ruminating, poetry. A huge movie screen picks up images from Abraham’s head or provides a location for the scene, or both. The film is cold, grainy, dream-like. Abraham Zobell also swims in numerous, nostalgic pop tunes. Abe sings “Duke of Earl” to himself, throughout the show, in addition to the full-on band, creating mood, tone and evocation for this ode to rescinded paradise. If nothing else, Abe’s problem is painfully clear. Like most of us, he once had a love that seemed to be the answer to all of life’s mystery and sorrow. Then God (or fate) cruelly took her away, leaving Abe distraught, damaged, enraged. A cosmic prank, if you will. And after all these years, he still can’t let it go. Jenkin manages to elicit our sympathy (if not empathy) though making it obvious that Abe’s in a prison of his own making. When you gaze upon the tawdry objects of his desire, you have to wonder if Abraham simply needs to be in love. If he suffers from the pervasive, mythological notion of love as never-ending bliss.
I would never say I’m an expert on Len Jenkin’s body of work, but I can tell you that rarely have I have felt so beguiled, so completely absorbed, so exhilarated and spellbound as when I saw Port Twilight and Time in Kafka, two Jenkin shows produced at The Undermain in the recent past. Ironically, Port Twilight and Time have the appearance of being obtuse, disconnected and non-sequitur, while actually fusing beautifully on a visceral level. Abraham Zobell is just the opposite. It seems linear on the surface, but underneath it feels disjointed and slight. Abraham Zobell lacks the spontaneity and playfulness of Port Twilight and Time, shows as intuitive and smooth as a collage by Schwitters or Rauschenberg. And every bit as surprising. For some reason, Jenkin’s decision to be more direct has depleted dramatic tension that made his other plays so kinetic. Abraham Zobell certainly has a lot of Jenkin’s charismatic qualities. The wistfulness and originality and loopy impulses that make him more interesting than the status quo. Like Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee, even when he doesn’t quite hit a home run, Len Jenkin always gives you something to savor and appreciate.
The Undermain presents Abraham Zobell’s Home Movie : Final Reel, playing January 18th-February 2nd, 2014. Dallas City Performance Hall. 2520 Flora Street, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-747-5515. www.undermain.org