This

[responsivevoice_button voice=”US English Male” buttontext=”Listen to Review”]
By Melissa James Gibson

Directed by Carl Menninger

Produced by Windy City Playhouse, Chicago

Annoying People Make an Annoying Play

In its short history so far, the Windy City Playhouse has become known for making its comfortable, upscale venue with its well-stocked bar an integral part of every show performed there. And though the fledgling company has staged a wide variety of work, the most common theme of its plays are the relationship problems of well-to-do East Coasters. It’s not a bad combination of atmosphere and play selection, but the company could doubtlessly do better than Melissa James Gibson’s This, a 2009 play with detestable characters and overly indulgent dialogue. It may be that director Carl Menninger’s production is overly cautious or missed the play’s emotional core, but I’m not convinced that the script could have sustained a production better than this one.

Image 1
Joe Zarrow (Alan), Brian Grey (Jean-Pierre), Steve O’Connell (Tom), Tania Richard (Marrell) and Amy Rubenstein (Jane). Photos by Michael Brosilow.

The play begins in the New York City apartment of Marrell (Tania Richard) and Tom (Steve O’Connell), new parents whose insomniac baby is driving them crazy. They’re hosting their first dinner party since he was born, with just a few close friends: the gay mnemonist Alan (Joe Zarrow), the recently widowed young poet Jane (Amy Rubenstein), and the French Jean Pierre (Brian Grey), a doctor of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Due to the host couple’s deteriorating relationship and the social ineptitude, unresolved grief, and distraction of the respective guests, the party is going poorly, and then Tom gets the bright idea of playing a game with Jane that is really more of a prank. She storms out in anger, but when he goes to her apartment later to apologize, they suddenly have sex.

Joe Zarrow (Alan) and Amy Rubenstein (Jane)

The rest of the play examines the fall-out of this decision. Both are wracked with guilt, but Jane more than Tom, because Marrell was her best friend, and she knows she can’t keep a secret. There are two problems with getting invested in this story, though. One is the stilted language used for most of the dialogue. Jane and Marrell have a long conversation about their own conversations, in which they examine their use of inflection as punctuation and the subtext behind their statements. It’s all very meta, but not particularly insightful. The other problem is that Marrell and Tom’s relationship is truly awful. She’s a jazz singer and he’s a woodworker; even though he’s probably the one making most of the money, she absolutely despises him for being a tradesmen, and constantly takes shots at his intelligence and cultural sophistication. At one point, she lambasts him for bringing a maple panel into their apartment, howling that she never wants to see evidence of his work at home. Tom’s not a particularly likable figure either, so their marriage doesn’t seem worth saving.

Image 6
Brian Grey (Jean-Pierre), Amy Rubenstein (Jane), Joe Zarrow (Alan), Tania Richard (Marrell) and Steve O’Connell (Tom)

As bad as the couple is, Zarrow’s character is worse. Alan seems intended to be a neurotic Jew/sassy gay combo, but he’s also a high-functioning alcoholic with a persecution complex who redirects everything to be about himself. Near the climax of the play, when the adultery is about to be revealed, he suddenly hijacks the conversation into a ten-minute digression on whether goyim’s use of Yiddishisms is cultural appropriation and should be allowed among liberals. Rubenstein’s Jane is not totally lacking in charm, but since the character is written to be depressed, she’s not exactly the most exciting person on stage most of the time, and her character development is stuffed into the last fifteen minutes of the play. This is also another case where the Windy City Playhouse hasn’t quite maximized the potential of their space, leaving a few seats on the end with obstructed viewing because the part of the set that’s most prominent is the one which is used the least. Near the end of the play, Jean Pierre declares that the play has been about unimportant things as though he’s making a much-needed declaration instead of stating the obvious. That’s not quite fair; well-off Manhattanites can have valid emotional problems. It’s entirely possible that the play’s themes of grief and mid-life crises well resonate with some theatre-goers, and there are some funny moments. But the bright spots are mixed in with ones that are aggravating when they’re supposed to be droll.

Somewhat Recommended

Jacob Davis

3jacob.davis@gmail.com

Reviewed June 24, 2016

For more information, see This’s page on Theatre in Chicago.

Playing at the Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W Irving Park, Chicago. Tickets are $25-55; to order, call 773-891-8985 or visit windycityplayhouse.com. Performances are Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm through August 28. Running time is two hours, with one intermission.