Sunday, February 24, 2019

Of Young Women and Wisconsin Nights: Rebecca Gilman's Entertaining 'Twilight Bowl' Isn't Completely Up My Alley -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Twilight Bowl
a world premiere play
by Rebecca Gilman
directed by Erica Weiss
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru March 10

The rise of Rebecca Gilman as a highly-regarded, often-produced playwright largely coincides with my becoming a voluminous theatergoer.

Though it doesn't precisely cover either occurrence, "the 21st century" is a roughly accurate timeframe for both, as four of Gilman's most noted plays--Boy Gets Girl, Spinning Into Butter, Blue Surge and The Glory of Living--were first produced in 2000 or 2001. This is pretty much when I went from going to a play (or musical) or two per year, to a handful each month.

So it is somewhat surprising to me that Twilight Bowl--now in a world premiere at Goodman Theatre--is only the 4th Gilman play I've seen, all at the same venue.

I didn't much care for Dollhouse--her adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play--nor A Brief History of the Johnstown Flood, but I greatly enjoyed Luna Gale in 2014.

Photo credit on all: Liz Lauren
Twilight Bowl falls somewhere in between, neither a strike nor a gutter ball, and perhaps much more appealing to its target demographic.

Typically, I feel that truly great theater should appeal to anyone regardless of any specifics in its subject matter or characterizations.

For example, Luna Gale is about a couple of rural, meth-addicted teens who have had a baby, and I found it quite compelling, in large for humanizing people I likely wouldn't much see or think about in real-life.

This too is the main strength of Twilight Bowl, which chronicles five young women in a small Wisconsin town, and another from Winnetka who happens to be there for a night.

Across 90 minutes, Gilman's dialogue--under the direction of Erica Weiss with fine performances from the six actresses--kept me sufficiently entertained.

Initially we learn that the somewhat salty Jaycee (nicely played by Heather Chrisler) will be separated from her pals for awhile.

So too, for different reasons, will her cousin Sam (Becca Savoy), an employee of Twilight Bowl and the best bowler of the bunch.

Clarice (Hayley Burgess), who also works at the alley, is seemingly Jaycee's closest friend, as enunciated by her being the most taciturn at the going away party.

And though well meant, the overt Christianity of Sharlene (Anne E. Thompson) isn't what Jaycee wants to hear at the moment.

Jaycee's small going away party is the opening scene, occurring with the four aforementioned girls seemingly high school seniors--or perhaps recently graduated--and each subsequent scene moves the timeline forward.

The second scene involves another Twilight Bowl employee, Brielle (Mary Taylor), interacting with Maddy (Angela Morris), the affluent Chicago suburbanite who--in something of a stranger-in-a-strange-land thread--stops at the alley over Thanksgiving break from the Ohio State University, where she's a freshman with Sam.

This introduces all the characters, and the play takes us forward a few more years.

Interestingly, Twilight Bowl was written by Gilman as a "commission from the Big Ten Theatre Consortium of schools whose theater departments saw a dire need for plays featuring roles for women in their 20s and so commissioned a group of female playwrights to write those plays." [From a Chicago Tribune article by Rebecca Gilman; January 7, 2019.]

I believe the play was only produced at the University of Iowa before the Goodman--which has long presented Gilman's work--opted to stage it in its smaller Owen Theatre.

It's to Gilman's credit that--along with broaching the pressure some feel to succeed in college--she makes us empathetic to the women who don't go to college at all, or not to Big 10 schools, and this piece should well serve the purposes for which it was concocted.

And why, while I think almost anyone might find suitable enjoyment and resonance at Goodman, it may more greatly enrich audiences of young women.

Or Wisconsinites.

For while I liked it, I didn't find it all that insightful nor substantive.

Certainly, there were messages about friendship and religion and people not always being what they seem--in ways both surprisingly good and bad--and Gilman's writing definitely has plenty of wit.

But a few of the characters seem under drawn, and one really not necessary.

In sum, Twilight Bowl is kind of like a pair of bowling shoes.

The time you spend with it is worthwhile--and again, perhaps more so for those who aren't 50-year-old Illinois men without children--but at the end of the night, it really ain't for keeping.

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