At the Goodman (Owen)Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Chicago – Rebecca Gilman’s “Twilight Bowl” at the Goodman Owen Theatre is a terrifically acted group portrait of six young women in rural Wisconsin trying to get their lives together. The world premiere production comes from Goodman’s 2017 New Stages Festival of new plays. The show features the six original performers from 2017 and it is a real winner.
The Twilight Bowl of the title is a bowling alley in a small Wisconsin town. The characters hang out, in various combinations, in the alley’s bar during a roughly two-year period. They swear and talk sex and bicker as they face up to the probability of desperate bleak futures.
Most of the six females come from blue collar backgrounds and dysfunctional families. Each character has her own story. Jaycee is a hard-boiled type deep into drugs and alcohol who eventually goes to prison for drug dealing. Maddy, the only figure from a privileged background (she graduated from New Trier High School in Illinois), becomes pregnant and elects to get an abortion. Sharlene is an intensely passionate Christian trying to fit in with her secular friends. Sam wants to break out of the small town swamp of mediocrity by parlaying an athletic scholarship at Ohio State University (in women’s bowling) into a better future, whatever the ethical cost. Clarice is rudderless and Brielle earns a precarious living tending bar at the bowling alley. In spite of much humor, the pall of dead end lives hangs over the group.
“Twilight Bowl” is part of an American stage tradition that can be called “saloon drama.” A group of characters gather in a public venue, often a bar or saloon, and interact, displaying their personalities through casual conversation that gradually escalates revelations of dramatic intensity. The best known example probably is Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” set in a New York City bowery bar. There is also William Saroyan’s “The Time of Your Life,” set in San Francisco, and “Steel Magnolias,” set in a southern small town beauty shop. The core of such dramas resides in realistic dialogue–funny or poignant or hurtful or desperate. Problems aren’t necessarily solved but the dialogue continually grabs the audience’s ear.
Rebecca Gilman has assembled a group of characters we wouldn’t necessarily care to spend a lot of time with in real life. But thanks to Gilman’s honest language, the six are good company for 90 minutes of uninterrupted stage time. The raunchy humor is really funny and the conflicts are honest. The ordinariness of the six females doesn’t diminish their entertainment value because the performers nail their role so credibly. This is one of those productions where the audience cannot imagine the play being acted and staged any other way.
A play comes across so naturally indicates there is a director behind the scenes who orchestrates the characters and dialogue into a seamless whole, no false note struck, no joke too broad, no confrontation too over the top. And thus it is with Erica Weiss, who shapes the action so securely that the viewer is never distracted by theatrical artifice. Its mood shifts happen naturally from scene to scene. No directorial bright ideas mar the natural flow of the script. Weiss proves again that the best directing is invisible directing.
Maddy and Jaycee have more dramatic stories than the others, but the six young women all have their say. Acting honors can be distributed evenly, so here they are, in alphabetical order—Hayley Burgess (Clarice), Heather Chrisler (Jaycee), Angela Morris (Maddy), Becca Savoy (Sam), Mary Taylor (Brielle), and Anne E. Thompson (Sharlene). Perhaps the first among equals is Thompson for making Sharlene so authentic when her religious passion could easily have descended into a caricature.
The all-female credits extend to the design staff. Regina Garcia designed the realistically seedy bowling alley lounge. Izumi Inaba designed the costumes, Cat Wilson the lighting, and Victoria Deiorio the sound design and original music. And casting director Erica Sartini-Combs can take a bow for accumulating such a spot-on acting ensemble.
Rebecca Gilman is a nationally recognized dramatist so her achievement in “Twilight Bowl” is no surprise. But the six actors are not household names in Chicagoland theater and their careers to date reside basically at the storefront level. All in all, they collectively are another testimony to the bottomless acting pool in Chicagoland theater. Playgoers can access all their excellence for as little as $10 a ticket with a top of only $45. Just a few blocks to the north there is a bad touring show indifferently acted with a ticket top of $92. Go figure!
The show gets a rating ofstars.
“Twilight Bowl” runs through March 10 at the Goodman Owen Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Street. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. performances on March 2, 7, and 9.Call 312 443 3800 or visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Twilightbowl.
Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. February 2019
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