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Libby Heily’s Burt and Abbie Is Tightly Written, with Crisp Dialogue and Quite a Bit of Humor


Cary Playwrights’ Forum is currently presenting New Works in the Paul Green Room in the Cary Arts Center. On Wednesday, May 25th, we attended the first of two “workshop” performances of Burt and Abbie. Written by Libby Heily and directed by Marina Enslen and Ken Walsh, the play is set in the apartment of Burt, a fifty-something man who lives alone. Crystal, a girl in her early teens, has met Burt in an ice cream shop and has gone home with him, intent on spending the night.

Act One is a conversation between those two; Act Two is a conversation between Burt and Crystal’s mother, Abbie. Both conversations are riveting! During Act One, we felt we were witnessing a high-stakes game of poker (or was it chess? Or craps?). Neither character is truthful with the other. We wondered at times if they were being truthful with themselves. What does each want? And how far are they willing to go to get it?

Act Two is, in some respects, a “rematch” of Act One, with Abbie substituting for her daughter. More gambits, more bluffs. Check! Checkmate!

A major difference: in Act Two, we are privy to some information that was not accessible during Act One. Now, we know how high the stakes are; we know that the deck is stacked and the dice are loaded.

We could not ask for better casting than Emily Tomasik for the vivacious, headstrong, rebellious Crystal. She meshes very well with Joe Ayscue’s Burt — another excellent job of casting. Christine Rogers rounds out the cast as Abbie, and she is every bit as up-to-the-task as the others. The performance also includes Tim Morris as narrator.

Libby Heily’s script is tightly written. Dialogue is crisp and contains quite a bit of humor early on, humor that gives way as the tension mounts.

Our Department of Picky-Picky did wonder about two things:

  1. The choice of title — after all, one of the two title characters does not appear until Act Two.
  2. Would it be possible to convey the information that Abbie is Crystal’s mother a bit more quickly?

Once again, this was the first of two “workshop” performances. Audience members were invited to stay after the performance and participate in a discussion with the directors and playwright, a discussion led by local actor/director/playwright/teacher Ian L. Finley, who teaches classes on writing plays.

New Works will be presenting two staged readings of Burt and Abbie at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 3rd, and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 5th. All the staged readings will take place in the Paul Green Room of the Cary Arts Center.

The other play in this endeavor, After the Fall by Marilynn Barner Anselmi, will be performed as staged readings at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 4th, and at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 5th.

Last Wednesday night’s performance ofBurt and Abbie was prefaced by a few words from director Marina Enslen. She told us that the actors had not even had two full rehearsals prior to this reading, that much of her direction had, of necessity, been delivered “long distance.”

Given that what we have seen so far was a scantily rehearsed performance of a still-to-be-revised draft of this play, we predict that the subsequent performances will be smash-hits.

If work of this quality is what we can expect from Cary Playwrights’ Forum’s New Works, we say “More! More! More!”

The Cary Playwrights’ Forum presents NEW WORKS: “BURT AND Abbie” by Libby Heily and “AFTER THE FALL” by Marilynn Barner Anselmi at 7:30 p.m. June 3 and 3:30 p.m. June 5 (staged reading of Burt and Abbie) and 7:30 p.m. June 4 and 1:30 p.m. June 5 (staged reading of After the Fall) in the Paul Green Room at the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary, North Carolina 27511.

TICKETS: $10 ($8 students, seniors, veterans, and ADA and FREE for Cary Playwrights’ Forum Friends).

BOX OFFICE: 800-514-3849 or



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Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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