By Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Anish Jethmalani
At 16th Street Theater, Berwyn, IL
“To breed or not to breed?”
Nice ensemble acting drives home Gilman’s thought-provoking backyard drama
Rebecca Gilman set her 2009, The Crowd You’re In With in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. She uses a July 4 celebration to put three couples and one stray into an agonizing discussion about married couples always wanting and eventually having children. This tightly trimmed and expertly directed (by Anish Jethmalani) 75 minute show is clear than the original Goodman Theatre production.
We meet Dan (Brad Harbaugh0 an obnoxious music critic for the Chicago Tribune and his very pregnant wife Windsong (Sklet Schrempp) – this couple touts how their daughter will change the world since she will certainly be smart, beautiful and musical! They feel like they have an entitlement simply because they are breeding.
Tension mounts when the barbecue host, Jasper (Sorin Brouwers) and his wife Melinda( Michelle Courvais) – despite trying, have not yet been able to conceive. Melinda and Windsong are lifetime friends and Melinda always mirrors what Windsong does. Jasper merely tolerates Dan for the sake of his wife. All the talk about the baby fuels the tension. The four educated and liberal 30somethings express their contemporary attitudes that certainly contain children.
When the upstairs landlord and his wife – Tom (Steve Ratcliff) and Karen (Joan Kohn) arrive at the barbecue, they politely listen to Dan and Windsong talk of raising a baby. They are surprised when Jasper and Melindia announce their attempts at breeding. Tom and Karen, each at age 60, declare that they neither had nor ever wanted children- the zingers and insults from Dan, Windsong and Melinda are challenges to the older couple. Only Jasper, ever the over-analyzer, seems open to a childless marriage. Tom and Karen also declare that they want a “childless” renter in the fist floor apartment, Jasper and Melinda realize they’ll have to move when and if a baby arrives.
When Dwaigh (Andy Slade) arrives in the middle of the breed or not breed debate, he rambles on with a terrifically funny monologue about his being a waiter to couples who dare bring their children to his restaurant. This hilarious speech underscores Jasper’s parental concerns as he winces throughout the story.
Gilman sure makes a case that a happy and successful marriage doesn’t necessarily require having children. We hear about Dan’s father’s regret for getting his girl pregnant requiring marriage and all the sacrifices, especially of one’s personal dreams, to fulfill his commitment to the children. Tom and Karen make the case that marriage can be a freeing and mutually fulfilling experience for two people without the burdens of children.
I agree with that but that view certainly challenges well established social norms. Kudos to Gilman and 16th Street Theater for tackling such a worthy and controversial topic. The fine cast, especially Sorin Brouwers and Skyler Schrempp, drive home the controversy with real feelings. This play seeks answers to the question: Are two people in live enough to sustain a lifelong relationship? See this show and answer for yourself.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: July 14, 2011
For more info on The Crowd You’re In With page on www.theatreinchicago.com
At the 16th Street Theater, 6420 W. 16th Street, Berwyn, IL, call 708-795-6704, www.16thstreettheater.org, tickets $18, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm, running time is 75 minutes without intermission, through August 13, 2011