Review: "A My Name is Allison" Deserves an "A"

A My Name is Allison

Written by Emery Schaffer

Directed by V. Greene

Presented by Somehow9am Productions at The Tank

312 W. 36th St., Manhattan, NYC

March 7-15, 2020


In Julian's (Henry Raber) apartment, Settlers of Catan is laid out on the table for his monthly board game night with his friends from college days Trish (Molly Lang) and Pete (Leo Defriend). Not everything is Battleship and Harry Potter Clue, however. Julian is coming off a recent bad date; Trish is practicing, on the advice of her couples' therapist and with something less than glowing enthusiasm, for having children with her husband; and Pete has not only just gotten fired—again—from a job but has also received a mysterious accusatory note. And tonight, Juilan has invited Allison (Caroline Dunaway), whom he has "met" on a new dating app that only provides names and not pictures. That Allison communicates at all times through a lace-edged sock puppet is only the beginning of the twisty hilarity of playwright Emery Schaffer's A My Name is Allison.

Trish, it transpires, keeps game night a secret from her husband, which suggests something about her marriage but is also far from the only secret being kept at this gathering. Julian being a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan is no coincidence, and the play also takes as touchstones both Clue and Shakespearean drama. In exploring themes of trust, identity, and self-expression, Schaffer and director V. Greene strike a deft and compelling tonal balance: this is an acutely funny play in which each of the four characters is also dealing with decidedly sobering issues, and these ostensibly opposing elements are integrated with a light and assured touch.

The revelations and decisions of Allison's game-night quartet draw additional weight from the excellence of the cast. From Raber's endearingly dorky Julian to Lang's depiction of a woman determined to quarantine her discontent and Defriend's basically well-intentioned but rash Pete, the actors' performances make it impossible not to become invested in these characters and their conflicts. At the center of it all, Dunaway is superlative as Allison, riotously funny in a wide-eyed, straight-backed amalgam of the chipper and the calmly unsettling, all impeccably mirrored in a blue sock puppet. The production also features some noteworthy visual touches: costume designer Blane Pressler gives, for instance, Allison a vaguely grown-up-Alice-in-Wonderland look and Julian a game-night/date-night outfit that functions both as a joke in itself and as a shorthand expression of his personality, while the lighting design makes some unconventional and at times creepy use of darkness and flashlights.
 
A My Name is Allison packs a lot into its well-paced one-hour running time. It is hilarious and melancholy, sweet and surprising, and never less than wholly entertaining. You'll never see board game night the same way again.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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