Twilight Bowl review- Rebecca Gilman’s coming of age premiere at The Goodman Theatre

Anne Thompson, Heather Chrisler, Haylee Burgess and Becca Savoy in the world premiere of Rebecca Gilman's "Twilight Bowl", directed by Erica Weiss at Goodman Theatre, Chicago; photo by Liz Lauren

The world premier of Rebecca Gilman’s Twilight Bowl, currently in production at The Goodman Theater (The Owen), 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago,  through March 10, 2019, directed by Erica Weiss, is a fresh, funny, spirited and graceful look into the lives of 6 young women in a small Wisconsin town- one is a short lived guest from Winnetka- as they grow past girlhood, grow apart from each other and some of them reach a rapprochement.

The action takes place in the bar of a local bowling alley; the strike of pins can often be heard in the distance even as they strike each other, mostly through refreshingly candid wordplay. The nearby yet unseen lanes can surely be used as a metaphor for life in the fast lane, as well as the “highways and byways” of life.

Hayley Burgess, Mary Taylor and Anne Thompson in “Twilight Bowl”

When the play opens, two cousins and two of their close friends are having a goodbye party at Twilight Bowl. One of the young women is headed for prison, another is headed for Ohio State on-what else- a bowling scholarship; it is she who returns with the Chicago North Shore native, a post Valley speaker who’s just undergone an abortion.  The rest are remaining nearby in minimum wage jobs; one is an ardent Christian. 

On an obvious level, this is a sharp eyed look at class divisions; it’s a periscope inside small town life. More subtly, it’s an exposé of the hatred Americans have for those of their number who succumb to drugs/alcohol, surely a form of self loathing since so many of us do succumb. It’s also an analysis of the strength one can gather from religious faith. Finally, it’s a shrewd feminist piece; the men as love interest are offscreen and vastly secondary to these characters needs to get work, to support themselves. Even sex is portrayed as mainly a solitary occupation, accomplished by toys for that purpose, sold by other women.

Heather Chrisler in “twilight Bowl”, The Goodman Theatre, Chicago

Some points of thought: What’s intriguingly obvious is the level of openly bad-natured hostility displayed early on here; several years later, a more mature tolerance and acceptance has settled in. Are all recent high school grads so jealous, so sneering, so backbiting and thoughtless? And what can have intervened in the interim to transform that anger into tolerance? What was the purpose of bringing in the hurt/hurting rich girl? To show that someone with more advantages can be more available to hurt, more vulnerable, just as furious when her surface is scratched? When a play makes you think, it has succeeded in investing you in the work after the curtain falls.

Starring Heather Chrisler in an ace interpretation as the defiant, defended, and drug dependent Jaycee; Becca Savoy, in a scarily real presentation as Jaycee’s cousin, the self obsessed and selfish college athlete Sam; Anne E. Thompson in a finely honed role as Sharlene, the vehement Christian whose religion gives her the ability to offer succor or a sucker punch; Hayley Burgess, in a transparently honest performance as Clarice, the bewildered by life girl whose barely contained fury is ultimately tempered; Mary Taylor, in an evenly paced rendition of the matter of fact Brielle, a college dropout, soon to be married woman who is routinely self assured; and Angela Morris,  in a sleeper role that stole the show as the Winnetka native Maddy, who is overwhelmed by her abortion, searching for succor, yet ultimately a survivor.

Angela Morris in the world premiere of “Twilight Bowl” by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Erica Weiss

Erica Weiss has directed the fine cast in this textured nuanced script, with its taunts, challenges, self-revelations and irreverent language into believable characters who reveal the beginnings of interpersonal growth and acceptance; in a word, they live.

As always, well-deserved praise to the production team; kudos to: costume designer Izumi Inaba, for clothing pertinent to Anygirl; to Cat Wilson’s lighting design for a twilight atmosphere that enhanced the action; to Regina Garcia, set designer, for a delightful spot-on bowling alley bar/restaurant, down home and comfy; to Victoria Deiorio whose original music and sound design cast a modern and authentic ambience; and a special mention to superb casting by Erica Sartini-Combs for choosing real women for real roles.

For information and tickets to all the great shows at The Goodman Theatre, go to www.goodmantheatre.org

All photos by Liz Lauren

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