One of Abe Weissman’s most endearing qualities is how dedicated he is to his work. While he may have lost his passion for teaching mathematics, he always made sure he was efficient, and that work extends to his new venture as the critic of The Village Voice. Think of Abe as the precursor to the cutting wit of longtime New York Times theater critic, Ben Brantley. With his sharp tongue and thorough work ethic, Abe could strike fear into any young playwright. In Abe’s continuous hunt for the truth, season four of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel affords him some of his most honest moments.
Could Abe have given a pass to They Came, They Danced? After all, the Weissmans travel back to the Catskills every summer. How are the next summer months going to fare when he ripped Buzz Goldberg’s dream apart?
“He was dreading it. He wanted to convince himself that the truth would protect him. Or shield him. Because of his relationship to Steiner and the resort and this kid who he has known for so long…he had to have known that something bad would come out of publishing that review. If not for his own people, it would be felt in his circle of friends. It’s a big risk. He loves his job, and he knows he has to honor it. He can’t short shrift this position, and he is in a conflict between his work ethic and his loyalty to his people.”
Shalhoub complimented the writing of directors Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino for how they let Abe go down swinging. It’s admirable that Abe stands his ground and doesn’t let the entire synagogue change his opinion on the flop of a show. By the end of the scene, he’s not alone in defending himself.
“Amy and Dan put other characters in a negative mindset. Moishe is upset about being passed over from attending the ceremony in the first place. Joel and Abe are not prone to siding with one another about anything really, and he admits to not liking it either. There is this running gag about Midge being bad in the play however many years ago, and I loved how it becomes a small gang of people really on the defensive. There’s other energy pushing back.”
Some of Maisel’s best moments is when they knock Abe off-kilter or give him a shocking revelation. With all the care Abe puts into his daily routine, he doesn’t believe his wife when she tells him that their marriage is the product of an arrange marriage. He also doesn’t understand why his wife or his daughter would want to go to work.
“Abe is still a man of his time. Well, maybe behind his time? At that point, women weren’t taken seriously. When Midge gets the job at the department store, he is totally baffled. He asks her if she knows she has to show up every day. This generation of men–husbands and fathers–it just wasn’t on their radar. After having a lifelong career as a homemaker, it’s a little difficult for Abe at the beginning. It really does. When he gives her the stationary at the end, that’s truly a huge step for him.”
In the last few episodes, a sadder tone comes to the forefront when Moishe has a heart attack and lands in the hospital. As both the Maisels and Weissmans wait for any positive word, Abe steps into a room with Caroline Aaron’s Shirley. These are two characters who don’t like one another. Well, Shirley probably likes Abe fine enough, but you can tell Abe doesn’t have much patience for his former in-law. Shirley, overwhelmed with emotion, reassures Abe that if Rose were to die, she would be there for him. It’s a touching, unexpected moment that Shalhoub loved have the opportunity to perform with his longtime friend.
“Just for me, and I think I can speak for Caroline, too, it had a deeper meaning because we have known each other for a very long time. We first met when I moved to New York in the mid-80s, and we happened to be at the same boutique agency. We met and followed each other’s career in theater, and then we, coincidentally, moved to Los Angeles at the same time. We lived a few blocks apart from one another. Caroline did an episode or two of Wings and she came onto Monk, and we were both in Primary Colors. We intersected very often, and the friendship was always there. In all the time we’ve known each other, like Abe and Shirley, we’ve never really had a chance to do an intimate scene like this together. Abe has always tolerated Shirley and been somewhat dismissive of her. He doesn’t take her seriously. Given these circumstances, and given Moishe’s predicament, Abe really gives way, and he keys into Shirley’s pain. He listens. There’s all of a sudden the history they share all comes into play. It takes on a new dimension. I love that scene so much, and I didn’t see it coming.”
When Abe is asked to read Moishe’s eulogy even though Moishe is alive, Abe is put on the spot unlike we’ve seen before. Shalhoub’s voice cracks and Abe is cautious with his delivery. It’s a beautifully poignant scene that elevates an entire season tinged with the theme of loss.
“He is put in a position where all the persona that he presents to the world really drops away. He’s sleepless and stressed and anxious in that scene, and he fully expects that they lost Moishe when he gets that phone call. He’s never been that exposed before, especially in front of that crowd. Abe and Moishe have such a complicated, ongoing…thing between them. A lot of that falls away when death becomes part of the conversation.”
It’s not all sad for Abe in season four. He does get to twirl a dramatic, theatrical cape on the opening night of They Came, They Danced. Shalhoub laughed as he told me about the literal cape lessons he took in order to get Abe’s flair just right. Those rehearsals truly paid off.
“Like all parts, you need a tremendous amount of practice. Full disclosure, Dan told me three weeks before we were going to shoot, and he told me there was going to be a cape. He wanted to shoot the scene in a lot of ways, so he told me that he wanted me to have rehearsals for it. I kid you not, when I wasn’t shooting, I would be in a separate rehearsal twirling this cape around. They filmed that scene in such a special way–from all angles and from above–and I literally had cape rehearsals. It was its own one act play.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Amazon.