Sam can’t understand what’s happening to him — or, for that matter, what’s going on with his best friend, Jacob, who suddenly has taken to intimidating and denouncing him, especially when both are in the woods and hanging with Esther, the other member of their tight-knit high school pack.
Could Jacob be wrestling with desires that fill him with shame? Is Sam struggling with a particularly vexing transition into manhood? These and other coming-of-age issues are explored in “Abominable,” Helen Pafumi’s metaphor-rich, if expositionally underdeveloped, new play, receiving its world premiere at the Hub Theatre in Fairfax.
The 90-minute drama is staged attractively by director Kirsten Kelly in a black-box space at the New School of Northern Virginia. It features some vivid performances, too, especially by Chris Stinson, playing the personal-demon-grappling Sam, and Carla Briscoe as a neighbor who knows the forest can be filled with things that go bump in the night. But once “Abominable” lays out the troubles facing some of its warmly familiar characters, the play itself gets lost in the woods. The playwright has difficulty marshalling her poetic representations in ways that compellingly advance her story.
Intriguingly, “Abominable” wants us to consider the monsters we confront as kids, the ones that materialize in human form as well as those that exist in our imagination. In Sam’s unnamed community, they’re everywhere: Sasquatch-size footprints found in the forest — a landscape conjured hauntingly by set designer Kristen Morgan as a grove of leafless white tree trunks — prompt a frantic hunt and, in fairy-tale fashion, warnings to children from police and parents to stay indoors.
At the same time, Sam reports strange aches in his rapidly growing bones: the beast in “Abominable,” it seems, is also within. His pain is exacerbated by the bullying he’s fending off from Jacob (William Vaughan), his erstwhile ally, who is in a rage, accusing Sam, somewhat mystifyingly, of being a liar. This may or may not be a consequence of Sam’s increasingly close relationship with Esther (Maggie Erwin), on whom Jacob vents all his fury and jealousy one evening.
Though the play bogs down in the protracted rehashing of the threat the unseen monster poses, Pafumi — who also serves as the Hub’s artistic director — demonstrates a nice touch with the gentler rhythms and humor of more ordinary happenings. Sitting around a table, for instance, Briscoe’s Primavera engages in a funny session of couponing with Sam’s mom (Liz Osborn) and a local sheriff’s deputy (Sasha Olinick).
“Abominable” could benefit from more indulgences in this sort of amusingly observed behavior. With some tinkering, too, the play might be even more engaging for young people going through some of the turmoil Sam is feeling. In any event, Hub’s impulse to present new material on topics of interest in the world just outside the stage door is worth continuing.
Abominable, by Helen Pafumi. Directed by Kirsten Kelly. Set, Kristen Morgan; lighting, Elizabeth Coco; sound and composition, Matthew M. Nielson; costumes, Jane Fink; fight choreography, Matthew R. Wilson. About 90 minutes. Tickets, $20-$30. Through Aug. 3 at New School of Northern Virginia, 9431 Silver King Ct., Fairfax. Visit www.thehubtheatre.org or call 800-494-8497.