Pittsburgh native, off-broadway star returns home for Public Theater production
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Local starsOff-broadway star Robin Abramson got first big break at JCC

Pittsburgh native, off-broadway star returns home for Public Theater production

As a teen, Robin Abramson was cast as the lead in a teen production at the JCC. She is back to star in the Public Theater's production of "Heisenberg" this month.

Actress Robin Abramson grew up in Monroeville attending Temple David. (Photo courtesy of Robin Abramson)
Actress Robin Abramson grew up in Monroeville attending Temple David. (Photo courtesy of Robin Abramson)

When Robin Abramson was living in Israel in 2005, the Pittsburgh-born actress was cast in an ex-pat production of “The Sound of Music.”

Despite her Semitic looks, the dark-haired former staffer of Emma Kaufmann Camp was nevertheless given the role of Maria von Trapp.

“The only place where I could ever go to in the world where they would cast me as Maria in the ‘Sound of Music’ would be Jerusalem,” quipped Abramson, who now lives in New York City, but is back in the Steel City to star in the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of “Heisenberg.”

Abramson grew up in Monroeville attending Temple David, where she celebrated her bat mitzvah. It was there that she first realized she had a love of performing.

“Preparing for my bat mitzvah began my long love affair with rehearsal and performance,” recalled the Gateway High School and Point Park University grad. “That’s when I got the bug.”

Being cast in the lead in a teen production of “The Boyfriend” at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh sealed the deal. The director of that show, Jill Machen, continues to direct the JCC’s teen productions.

“I remember Robin expressing her desire to pursue a career as an actress, and remember thinking she had the talent and the determination to do so,” said Machen.

Now, following her New York debut in an off-Broadway production of “Shadowlands,” Abramson is back in her hometown and ready to take the Public’s stage in a two-person show that offers a twist on the traditional boy-meets-girl love story.

The moral of the story is you’ve got to keep hitting the pavement because you never know.

“Heisenberg,” penned by British playwright Simon Stephens, tells the story of Georgie, a 40-something, free-spirited American woman, and Alex (played by Anthony Heald), a tightly-wound 70-something Irishman, and their chance encounter at a train station.

The title of the play is taken from the Uncertainty Principle posited by physicist Werner Heisenberg, which states that there is a limit to what can be known about the behavior of quantum particles — or, in this case, relationships.

When the play opened on Broadway in 2016, Abramson was “riveted” by the performance of actress Mary Louise Parker, who played Georgie.

“Mary Louise Parker was brilliant,” Abramson said. “She was fantastic, unpredictable, riveting. I came home, and [my boyfriend] said, ‘How did you like the show?’ And I said, ‘I really loved it but I have to tell you, I don’t think I would want to see that show with anybody but her.’ And now here I am.”

Despite being enamored with Parker’s performance, Abramson is making the role her own.

“What ensues out of that chance encounter at the train station is surprising and moving, and funny we hope, and shocking really,” she said. “What I like most about Georgie is she’s flawed, which I think we all are. She doesn’t have much of a filter. But her intentions are good, I believe. She’s really human, just like he is. They are real people with real flaws that I think we can all identify with.”

The show is directed by Tracy Brigden, with whom Abramson worked at the City Theatre following her graduation from Point Park.

Abramson’s career path has had some turns. After college, she made aliyah. She lived in the Jewish state for about three years “off and on,” attracted by the “passion” of Israelis and motivated to try her hand as one herself following a Birthright trip.

“Israel blew me away,” she said. “After graduating from college and not walking into any high paying jobs, I thought, just move to Israel.”

When she arrived, she was surprised to find a couple of theater companies run by American and British ex-pats that were doing plays in English. In addition to playing Maria in “The Sound of Music,” Abramson also had the lead in an Israeli, English-speaking production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

But although she was having success as an actress in Israel — while working for Birthright — she ultimately missed her family and decided to come back to the States.

She moved to New York a couple years ago to try her hand in the Big Apple and to be with her boyfriend, Broadway actor Jeremy Kushnier.

While getting cast in New York “is really hard,” persistence paid off for Abramson when she landed the role of Jewish New Yorker and convert to Christianity Joy Davidman in “Shadowlands,” which tells the true tale of Davidman’s relationship with C.S. Lewis.

“The moral of the story is you’ve got to keep hitting the pavement because you never know,” Abramson said.

“Heisenberg” runs at the Pittsburgh Public Theater from March 8 to April 8. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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