Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Your Position and Your Place: Strong Acting Fuels AstonRep's 'The Crowd You're In With' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Reviews

The Crowd You're In With
by Rebecca Gilman
directed by Derek Bertelsen
AstonRep Theatre Co.
at Raven Theatre Complex
Through June 16

Clocking in at just 75 minutes, The Crowd You're In With feels more like a series of arguments than a fully developed play.

And though the fine writing of Rebecca Gilman--abetted by strong acting in this AstonRep production--keeps things engrossing, the set-up feels somewhat contrived.

Taking place at a backyard barbecue, the show involves two thirty-something couples who have been friends since college.

Windsong (Maggie Antonijevic) is married to Dan (Nick Freed) and is pregnant with their first child, while Melinda (Sara Pavlak McGuire) and Jasper (Martin Diaz-Valdes) have been trying to conceive, but haven't yet.

Photo credit on all: Paul Goyette
The BBQ is taking place at Melinda & Jasper's, whose neighbors and landlords, Karen (Lynne Baker) and Tom (Javier Carmona), drop by, as does Darcy (Erin O'Brien), another friend of the couples.

Karen and Tom are about 60, on their second marriage each, and intentionally childless.

Karen, especially, is rather opinionated about not having kids, and much else.

Her outspokenness not only sparks fevered debate with Melinda and Jasper, but among them, as well as with Dan and Windsong.

Other than some comedic input from Darcy, a waitress, about how parents handle young kids in restaurants, this is The Crowd You're In With in a nutshell.

I don't think the play is a masterpiece, and though many of the arguments from all the characters feel real enough, it seems the conversations--especially those among Jasper and Melinda--would've been had many times over, without their pals and landlords present.

But I've long liked the work of AstonRep, director Derek Bertelsen and--to varying extents--Gilman, and strong work by McGuire, Baker, Antonijevic and the three men makes The Crowd You're In With rather entertaining.

Abetted by a program note from Bertelsen, I can see how the play isn't merely a debate on whether or not to have kids, but a look at how seemingly cordial relationships--among both friends and lovers--can be undermined by both bluntness and reticence.

As a longtime bachelor, I wasn't all that drawn into any suggestions that having children is essential to life having meaning, but found comments about Dan dressing like a teenager and a knock on Bob Dylan--the play's title comes from a "Positively 4th Street" lyric--to be quite untoward.

And perhaps more interesting than anything within the rather brief play, is wondering what happens to Melinda and Jasper from here.

Or whether their desire to have a kid was really born from some sort of desperation, bespeaking something far deeper at play between Gilman's lines.

So particularly with inexpensive tickets--under $20 including fees--available through HotTix, Goldstar or TodayTix, this can certainly be construed as a recommendation.

You'll be in and out of the theater pretty quickly, but during the show--and maybe even more so afterwards--The Crowd You're In With should make for good company.

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