Directed by Jeremy Wechsler
At Theater Wit, Chicago
“What if you wake up and discover you’ve been living a dinky life. . .like when you’re in the middle of telling someone a story and as you’re telling it say midway through you realize your story isn’t as good as you thought it was but it’s too late to go back—- do you ever fear that your life is like that.”
—Alan who also declares that he realizes that the life story he envisioned as an American movie now “wants to be a foreign film.”
Unlikable characters populate Melissa James Gibson’s This
Theater Wit has scored a ‘coup’ by landing playwright Melissa James Gibson’s This – called “The best new play to open off Broadway this fall” by New York Times critic Charles Isherwood. I couldn’t disagree more. I found This as peopled by a group of unlikable characters with whom I could not begin to like nor care for.
The best part of this kitchen sink relationship drama came from the sarcastically biting retorts and observations from Alan – the gay friend of the married folks. Mitchell J. Fain was funny as the glib Alan. But he also really is a down-on-life loser devoid of empathy.
That is at the core of my problem with Melissa James Gibson’s script – that none of the five characters were likable yet none were evil – they were flawed real folks. Merrill (Lily Mojekwu) is Tom’s (John Byrnes) wife and mother of their baby. We see early on that there is tension in their marriage. They have arranged a house party in order to help their old friend Jane (Rebecca Spencer) find a man since her husband died a year ago. They invite Jean-Pierre (Steve Hadnagy), a French doctor to help Jane. Their old college friend Alan is also at the party. Tensions dominate as Jane hates the game Tom tries to get Jane to be the focal point of the game so she can relax and unwind.
As the 95 minute sad relationship comedy unfolds, we hear some quirky zingers about life, marriage and the search for soul mates especially from Alan. Merrill and Tom are determined get Jane out of her blahs since it has been a year since her husband died. We see how the group’s comes unraveled when Tom commits adultery with Jane and Merrill confesses to June that see no longer loves or has sex with her husband Tom. The Doctor is a free-love advocate who finds Alan irritating as he lusts for Jane and Merrill.
The show’s tone is uneven as it moves from a melancholy comedy to a highly dramatic work of betrayal. There is little resolved here and the sad ending left me wondering why I spent 95 minutes being maneuvered by Gibson. It seemed that most of the opening night audience had mixed feelings about This. The younger folks laughed heartily and seemed to relate to the couples while the older folks (me included) found little humor and never empathized with anyone. I’m guessing that This’ audience is with the younger demographic.
The acting, especially from Mitchell J Fain and Rebecca Spence, was terrific. If you enjoy relationship sad comedies, you like This.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 28, 2011
For full show information, check out the This page at Theatre In Chicago.
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-957-8150, www.theaterwit.org, tickets $15 – $35, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through March 27, 2011.