San Diego Theater Review: GABRIEL (North Coast Repertory in Solana Beach)

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by Milo Shapiro on March 3, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


There would be much better places to live in 1943 than on the German-occupied British island of Guernsey, especially if you are sheltering your Jewish daughter-in-law Lily (Lilli Passero), who is passing for gentile.

Our protagonist Jeanne (Jessica John) is not fond of Lily, but has no plans to turn her over to the Nazis. The story begins with Jeanne balancing this situation while both encouraging and keeping at bay Nazi officer, Johann Von Pfunz (Richard Baird) who has taken a liking to her. This would be enough to base a plot on, but in short order a third conflict arises: A naked man (Alan Littlehales) washes up on the beach, unconscious. Without any kind of clothes to judge by, is he British or German? Nazi or Jew? Soldier or civilian? And not knowing, what does one do for him? Especially when your nine-year-old daughter Estelle (Catalina Zelles) rivals your intelligence but lacks your judgment skills, leading to unpredictability in dangerous times.

Serious themes of humanity, loyalty, and sacrifice are key to the edginess of Gabriel (titled for the fictitious name the women give the stranger so they have something to refer to him by), but part of what makes the show remarkable is the great levels of black humor that lead to solid laughter, too. Playwright Moira Buffini, thankfully, doesn’t come close to the goofiness of a Hogan’s Heroes script, but instead finds a surprising number of comic moments that are in concert with a play as ultimately dark as this.

Performances across the board on this one are captivating, with a strong display of energy and control by young Miss Zelles in a role that could easily undermine the play if not delivered so adeptly. Ms. John is on-target as Jeanne, the mastermind keeping everyone together, fed, and alive for yet another day. She is likeable enough, despite our initial potential resentment of one who would court a Nazi for her own gain. But it is Mr. Baird who stuns; he is so riveting in Act II that goose bumps rise at the change of an expression or an unexpected comment. Ms. Buffini’s outstanding dialogue certainly gives Baird a solid running start and the actor digs out ever juicy morsel for our satisfaction.

Other than a slightly overlong monologue by Lili in Act I, the nearly three hours fly by as we are caught up in the intrigue. As serious and touching as Gabriel is, attending will not cause the angst of watching the likes of Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, or Bent. NCR’s cast, under Christopher Williams’ direction, delivers a lively performance of an exciting and powerful script very worthy of your evening out.

photos by Aaron Rumley

North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach
Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on March 17, 2019 EXTENDED to March 24, 2019
for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

{ 1 comment }

Gordon Goldstein March 24, 2019 at 7:41 pm

Loved it!!!!

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