Adult Dave (also the author) is backstage after hours, anxiously running lines the night before an opening. Hearing noises, he exits to investigate, bursting through a clothes rack as Robin Williams. What are you doing here?” Dave exclaims. “Something must be bothering you to bring me back,” comes the response. Dave Droxler’s Williams is simply wonderful. He has the inflection, facial expression, jerky gestures and pinball delivery of the actor’s hopped-up presence, even ad-libbing with the audience.
We go back to Robin’s initial appearance in Dave’s life as Droxler plays his distant, blue collar, lottery obsessed father and flighty, old wives’ tale quoting mom. Support came only from a theatrical grandpa who completely concocted his own Italian history and persona. When grandpa died, Dave was eight. No one comforted or paid attention to the boy who retreated to TV – discovering Mork and Mindy. (The popular series introduced Williams to a national audience as Mork from Ork, a visiting alien. It allowed him to improvise, showing off to best advantage.) The actor turns up in Dave’s bedroom.
Williams sympathizes then launches into playacting distraction. (It’s a credit to actor and director that quiet moments are as credible as frenzied ones.) A blanket becomes “100% cotton waves.” There’s a storm. Others on the boat are “puking. Hey look at that, it’s a gag about a gag!” Williams calls out. “From then on, it was Robin and me take on the world,” Dave tells us. He watches every film in the actor’s oeuvre and edges into puberty – about which Williams does a very funny, evangelical stand-up periodically eliciting “amen” from the audience. We meet “Mr. Happy.” (Williams’ term for his member.)
Dave takes us through his life as a struggling actor with Robin lending advice, encouragement and humor. Williams briefly takes on characteristics of various roles from his films. (It helps to know these.) Like any searching adolescent, the boy eventually turns away captivated by Jim Carey (also good) with moments of Andy Kaufman, Jack Nicholson, and someone named Eddie. (The latter two could successfully be replaced by one more comedian.) Our hero inadvertently learns that “laughter really is healing” (not, in context, as Hallmark as it sounds). When he loses someone else important, Williams returns. Closure is touching.
Playwright Dave Droxler gives us an empathetic coming of age story made unique by his imaginary friend. The familiar arc is kept fresh and captivating. Writing utilizes Williams’ terminology and characters without (I think) copying actual speeches. Characters all read true. Taylor Mac wrote about writing: “…beat by beat… And when I talk about a beat, I’m talking about like five lines, not a scene or anything.” That awareness is present. As an actor, Droxler is both physically and emotionally skilled.
Director Chad Austin keeps Droxler almost continually moving during personality switches which adds to frenzied humor. Variously channeled actors are distinctively played. Use of the staging area is adroit as is timing. Tender moments land as well as comedy.
Terrific scenic design by Yi-Hsuaan (Ant) Ma and props by Deb Gaouette offer a colorful, well detailed backstage.
Lighting (Dawn Chiang) distinctively adds to change of mood and attitude. Oddly, there’s no credit for clever, well timed sound design
Photos by Grace Copeland
Abingdon Theatre Company presents
Robin & Me – My Little Spark of Madness
Written and Performed by Dave Droxler
Directed by Chad Austin
Through May 14, 2023