Review: "Aberdeen" Searches for Some Priceless Advice

Aberdeen

Written and performed by Cassie Workman

Presented at SoHo Playhouse

15 Vandam Street, Manhattan, NYC

January 30-February 11, 2024

Cassie Workman. Photo by Brett Boardman. 
In early December of 1993, I (Leah) drove from San Antonio to Houston, Texas, to see Nirvana. Rather than bopping around a pit full of frat boys singing along to "Rape Me" without a hint of irony, I chose to worm my way up front, maybe 10 feet from the stage, and I spent most of the show watching Kurt Cobain. At several points during the latter part of the show, we made eye contact. We both loathed the frat boys and arena shows and flower-sniffin, kitty-pettin, baby-kissin corporate rock whores. There were several thousand people in the Astroarena, but he was doing the show for me because we connected. I believed it that night, on the long drive back to San Antonio; I believed it 4 months later on April 8, 1994, and I kind of still believe it today, even though I know better.

Aberdeen, a poignant solo show packed with striking verbal imagery from award-winning Australian comedian, writer, musician, and performer Cassie Workman, ascribes a similar feeling of closeness to Cobain's fans as a group not long into the show's thunder-and-rain-steeped opening. The sounds of a storm function not only as a pathetic fallacy in tune with the performance's themes but also as part of its evocation of the titular city, Cobain's hometown. This production of Aberdeen is part of the 2024 International Fringe Encore Series, an annual event that showcases emerging artists who show exceptional talent at each season’s fringe festivals. This year's International Fringe Encore Series runs through February 11th at the SoHo Playhouse, and the full schedule is available here
Cassie Workman. Photo by Jake Bush. 
Workman, as the first-person narrator of the piece (with Cobain–or, more precisely, his ghost–often a "you"), describes Aberdeen, the origin of the man whom she calls both her hero and the voice of a generation, as a depressed former logging community beset by high rates of poverty, addiction, and suicide, a place where even the rain that we hear is ugly and the river flows like a vein of poison. Two years into the development of the project, Workman traveled to the United States "to further research Kurt Cobain’s life" and to visit "the places he lived, and where he died," doubtless helping to shape the show's evocative, textured descriptions. At the same time, Aberdeen is a kind of epic poem composed entirely in rhyming couplets, and fine-grained verisimilitude sits side by side with more heightened, even surreal passages, fitting for that genre as well as for a narrative that involves the narrator time-hopping through Cobain's life in the hope of altering the outcome. Over the course of the show's enthralling hour, however, we find that coming from a broken family is not the only parallel between Workman's narrator and her hero, and the question emerges of who actually needs saving.

Depression and suicide, probably unsurprisingly, loom large in Aberdeen, which probes them with sensitive honesty and scintillating artistry. Whether addressing the feelings of betrayal that Cobain's suicide engendered or the tempting clarity that suicide appears to offer someone; remarking on the cultural debt that we owe Courtney Love; or imagining God as a janitor in the drab purgatory of rehab and Aberdeen timber as making up part of the structure in which Cobain died, the expertly crafted show captivates. Changes in the rhythm and lighting and a larger structure of crescendo and decrescendo that echoes the tension and release of music like Cobain's keep the form endlessly interesting and ensure that the audience undergoes an emotional as well as poetic journey. Workman is an immediately gripping storyteller, judiciously mingling moments of levity with the darker subject matter and periodically delivering lines directly to an audience member in the front rows as if imparting something vital, creating a brief yet intimate bond like might occur between fan and performer at a concert. The choice is yours, but (really) don't be late for your chance to experience Aberdeen.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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