Review: Goodman’s “The Crowd You’re In With”

Gorgeous Set and poignant generational depictions
make this crowd memorable


The Crowd You’re In With
By Rebecca Gilman
Goodman Theatre, Owen Stage (buy tickets here)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Pictured in Goodman Theatre's production of The Crowd You're In With by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Wendy C. Goldberg are (l to r) Linda Gehringer (Karen), Coburn Goss (Jasper), Rob Riley (Tom), Kiff Vanden Heuvel (Dan), Stephanie Childers (Windsong) and Janelle Snow (Melinda). Photo by Eric Y. Exit With the entrance of June, summer moves into full swing and very soon schools will be out until the fall. In a little while, beaches, parks, and shopping malls will be teeming with families. The constant presence of kids will confront those younger couples who have yet to conceive. The choice to have a family is one of the most consequential decisions we make in our lives. That major life stepping stone is penetrated by Rebecca Gilman’s new play, The Crowd You’re In With.

The Chicago premier matches the setting of the play, which takes place in a Chicago backyard on the 4th of July. Three couples gather for a pre-fireworks barbecue. The conversation moves to the subject of kids, and the festivities fall apart. The hosts then clean up while making crucial life decisions.

Pictured in Goodman Theatre's production of The Crowd You're In With by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Wendy C. Goldberg are (l to r) Janelle Snow (Melinda), Stephanie Childers (Windsong) and Linda Gehringer (Karen). Photo by Eric Y. Exit     Pictured in Goodman Theatre's production of The Crowd You're In With by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Wendy C. Goldberg are (l to r) Rob Riley (Tom) and Sean Cooper (Dwight). Photo by Eric Y. Exit

When it comes to children, the three couples differ in opinion immensely. Jasper and Melinda (Coburn Goss and Janelle Snow) comprise the hosting couple. They’re still on the fence, having not succeeded at conception quite yet. Dan and Windsong (Kiff Vanden Heuvel and Stephanie Childers) are the hip, pregnant couple excited to get their family started. The party is rounded out by Tom and Karen (Rob Riley and Linda Gehringer), childless 60-somethings and Jasper and Melinda’s landlords. All three are forward-thinking, left-leaning, culture aficionados, discussing Bob Dylan and unionization over sangria and classy beer. Yet they all have different ideas when it comes to families, different enough to ruin everyone’s holiday.

Director Wendy Goldberg Director Wendy C. Goldberg handles the debate well, presenting each couple’s rhetoric with care. However, the point where the 4th of July fun turns into an open melee is unclear. Friendly jokes morph into personal attacks without much explanation. The embittered bickering comes out of nowhere, which seems to be an issue with the script. The play picks up after the barbecue dissolves, and the discussion is significantly more grounded and reasoned.

The best part of the production is the gorgeous set, designed by Kevin Depinet. The back of the two-story flat is created with meticulous attention to detail, complete with a hummingbird feeder. Brought to life by Josh Epstein lighting, it is the perfect location for a barbecue. If only our actual Chicago summer so far matched the summer on the Owen Stage.

Pictured in Goodman Theatre's production of The Crowd You're In With by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Wendy C. Goldberg are (l to r) Linda Gehringer (Karen) and Rob Riley (Tom). Photo by Eric Y. Exit The most interesting couple on stage is the older generation. Gehringer is delightfully corrosive as Karen, and Riley is her perfect match, balancing her tactlessness with goofy-old-man charm. Both of them do a great job stirring up discontent among the younger couples. Jasper comes out as the pensive protagonist of the play, and Goss plays him with depth and inquisitiveness. As his wife Melinda, Snow plays against him well; you can feel her biological clock tick away. Heuvel and Childers impart their couple with a youthful vibe, childlike in energy but also in temper. Sean Cooper makes a short appearance as Jasper’s and Dan’s single friend and bandmate, Dwight. With a delayed reaction time and slacker voice, Cooper seems to have based his performance on Matthew McConaughey in “Dazed and Confused.” Although the role doesn’t seem to actually have much of a point to it, he does get a hilarious monologue describing families at restaurants. With the exception of a few lulls in energy, the cast feed off each other and the couples all have a bonding underlying chemistry.

The production suffers from its brevity. Clocking in at just 85 minutes, the issues aren’t really given enough time to do them justice. Gilman fits in enough touching moments to make the play memorable, and the topics at work are relevant to everyone. The choice to start a family is a life-changing decision; “The Crowd You’re In With” explores the many repercussions of those choices.

Rating: «««

Running May 23 – June 21, 2009 (Buy tickets here).  All actors bios here.  Watch video here.

Aside: This Chicago ticket broker offers a great selection of tickets in the city – Purchase tickets for Blue Man Group in Chicago and Chicago Jersey Boys tickets – which is now celebrating its second year of sellout performances!

Cool beans – a great Chicago theater is reborn!

organicphotosmall_1 From Organic Theater’s homepage:

In the 1970s, when Chicago’s vibrant theater scene was earning the city a national reputation as the place to be for exciting new theater, few companies shone brighter than the Organic.  It was quintessential Chicago theater, a mirror for its time.  Today’s Organic Theater is still a mirror for its time, with a bold new vision and audacious new mission. At the Organic, you’ll experience sparkling new adaptations and world classics rarely seen in Chicago, performed in rotating repertory by a permanent company of artists. The new Organic is an adventure –  artists and audience together exploring great stories, well told.  (emphasis mine)


The 2009 Repertory Season



Sexual Perversity in Chicago


Bobby Gould in Hell
both by David Mamet


The $30,000 Bequest
by Mark Twain

Synopsis and creative/performing teams after the fold.

Performed in Rotating Repertory
May 28 – June 28, 2009
Greenhouse Theatre Center (map below)

Tickets:  773-404-7336, or buy online.

Map of the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre Center, home of Organic Theatre’s 2009 Repertory Season


    Organic Theater’s MISSION STATEMENT

Organic Theater Company is committed to a vision of creating productions with a permanent group of artists over a sustained period of time and presenting them a rotating repertory.

This approach, while relatively unusual in the United States, is widely accepted in much of the Western world as the ideal way to make a body of theatrical work.

Rotating repertory creates the opportunity for a unique relationship between the company and its audience, one in which the same actor can be seen in a variety of roles over a short period of time. It also allows the actors to work as a single instrument, much like the world’s great orchestras and dance companies.




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