Less a play than an animate marketing plan, “Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage” is everything casual theatergoers love about New York theater. The proximity to celebrity (Eve Plumb, who played Jan Brady on ABC’s “The Brady Bunch,” stars as Miss Abigail), the in-jokey humor, the parent-friendly ribaldry … all are aspects of a program that “Guide” producer/helmer/co-scribe Ken Davenport has down to a science. Does it hold up under even the kindest dramaturgical scrutiny? Heavens, no. Is it fun? Sure.
Plumb is the draw here, but Manuel Herrera is the star of the show. As Miss Abigail’s faithful, secretly smitten assistant Paco, Herrera plays a kind of advice-industry Kenneth the Page — well-dressed, efficient, and loyal to the end. Herrera regularly picks up the slack for his co-star, and is sorely missed whenever he’s offstage.
“Guide” is “inspired by” Abigail Grotke’s advice book of the same name, which in turn is sort of a greatest-hits collection of all the best advice from the old books Grotke collected. Those books are also filled with reprinted newspaper columns and questions from friends, so by the time all the royalties are worked out for this show, presumably most people will be owed a nickel.
Most of the play’s potential pacing problems are solved by encouraging the aud to be boisterous, a trick Davenport used in “My First Time” and “The Awesome ’80s Prom.” Aud members fill out a form with a question for Miss Abigail to answer; several hapless folks are called on stage to flirt awkwardly with one another; Paco develops an intense rivalry with the one guy Miss Abilgail pulls up on stage to aid her in Paco’s absence.
Though most of the jokes are easy and some even fall flat, it would be wrong to call the play clumsy; it’s put together with tremendous care, just not for structure or character depth. Davenport has set up the entire thing to provide a good time. Ultimately, “Guide” manages to send you home chatting about all of that silly dating advice and the “Brady” lady, rather than wondering if you should have caught something else.