Directed by Mikey Laird
Starring Casey Kells, Anne Marie Heiman,
Sarah Shirkey, Adam Overberg & Becca Kravitz
Presented by Nothing Special Productions
Playing at The Den Theater
This big-hearted show about youthful ennui still struggles to find its story.
“I want to feel like I’m moving forward, and I don’t. And I hate myself every single day for it.” So says Bob, the main character of Nick Cardiff’s subtly resonant—if not dramaturgically flawed—new play, A Midlife Something. For all intents and purposes, Cardiff has a good ear for capturing the listless ennui of today’s underutilized Millennials, and his dramatic voice feels probing and honest, even if A Midlife Something doesn’t always deliver the goods.
Bob (Casey Kells) is twenty-five and lives at home with his mother, Marie (Ann Marie Heiman), a fifty-year-old loan processor who hates her job and spends her time at work fending off sexual advances from upper management. Bob’s father has recently passed, and as a constant reminder, his urn’s conspicuously displayed on a shelf in his mother’s living room. The death of his father has left a hole in Bob’s life, one that he’s certainly not going to fill by working his menial management job at Goldie’s Market. Or by stringing along his girlfriend, Allie (Becca Kravitz). Or by smoking pot with his best-friend, Mike (Adam Overberg).
And Mike, for his part, is busy fulfilling his own paternal fantasies, serving as solicitous advisor to Bob when he’s especially indolent but also (and strangely enough) sexual partner to his mother, Marie. To complicate things, Bob has struck up a relationship with Ana (Sarah Shirkey), a disaffected peon working on a graphic T-shirt company. When Ana’s not taking calls from irate customers, she likes to consider herself a painter, and much of her relationship with Bob is founded on an unexpected aesthetic attraction she has for him, even going so far as painting his portrait.
Even if A Midlife Something never goes beyond the familial and the intimate, it nonetheless gestures toward the broader-minded recession-era concerns of today’s young people. Underemployed, overeducated and suffering from a pervasive “fear of missing out,” Bob’s paralysis in making his own dreams come true is a story we have heard echoed throughout the blogosphere: a story of being perennially broke, living longer at home with mom and dad, and barely able to find sustainable—let along meaningful—work.
Nevertheless, I wonder if A Midlife Something might benefit from Bob’s personal ennui being more clearly rooted in the broader socio-political realities now facing so many young Americans—as opposed to the more narrow confines of the domestic? As is, Bob sometimes comes across as more able to solve his problems than he is otherwise willing, his self-imposed languor quickly turning moody and self-indulgent. Should we feel Bob’s problems to be rooted in something more broadly structural and beyond his control, we might have more empathy for a man wanting to change his circumstance even as his historical condition disallows him from doing so.
Dramaturgically speaking, stories about characters suffering from neurotic bouts of inaction are difficult to tell. In the end, the decision to either act or not act must be met with equally hard consequences. But in Bob’s case, the decision to act upon his dream to be a cook or master chef appears to be the infinitely preferable option with his personal reluctances to be more self-imposed than anything. Thus Bob is fighting a battle foremost with himself, and all other conflicts in his life are ultimately derived from this central self-imposition. Thus A Midlife Something never dramatically builds so much as it suddenly turns on the light switch, its final resolutions arriving too easy and without any considerable loss for Bob.
Performances in A Midlife Something are nonetheless solid. Adam Overberg and Sarah Shirkey are notably effective in capturing Cardiff’s dark humor, turning even the most acerbic of observations into something relaxed and funny. Ann Marie Heiman as Bob’s mother is solid if not slightly miscast. Marie is supposed to be a woman of fifty, but Ms. Heiman looks hardly a day over thirty-five, the result of which is to dramatically alter the onstage dynamic between both her “son” and her “much younger” lover, Mike. Casey Kells is surprisingly sympathetic as Bob, his exasperated frustrations registering as emotionally honest and sincere. And Becca Kravitz’s rendition of the upbeat and buoyant Allie is a wonderful counterpoint to a play whose tone is so often disconsolate.
In short, A Midlife Something captures many of the emotional frustrations of living listlessly young and broke in today’s America, even as it suffers from an ill-paced narrative and too narrow a sphere of activity. Cardiff’s story obviously means something very personal to him, and that investment is palpable in A Midlife Something’s big heart. Now if only the story might be as equally big.
Anthony J. Mangini
Reviewed Monday, April 1st, 2013.
Running time is two hours and ten minutes with one intermission.
A Midlife Something runs until April 20th, 2013. The Den Theater is located at 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60622. Tickets can be obtained online at https://thedentheatre.com/. Check out their Theater in Chicago https://www.theatreinchicago.com/a-midlife-something/6156/.