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.

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