Highly Recommended **** When I read the press release that The Goodman will be featuring a Rebecca Gilman play, I know that I will be in for a solid story. At this time, they are presenting their eighth Gilman play, “Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976”, in its Chicago premiere. The title is one that can be interpreted in several ways, but in fact does not truly tell us the tale that Gilman has written. The year of the play is 1976, so that part is accurate. It is the Bi-Centennial and we are in Reynolds Wisconsin, a dairy city at a special time in our history.
Think back to that time. The world was simpler and people worked for companies that were local and part of the town, itself. Then came the conglomerates, buying up smaller companies and looking to grow even bigger so that they could be sold off to even larger companies and so one and so on. One might look at the title as the recipes of the times. Yes, there is mention of a recipe book that is prepared every year in Reynolds. As the story opens , we are in the home of the Durst Family. Kim ( played to perfection by Cliff Chamberlain ) is a worker in the local cheese factory in town. His wife, Kat (deftly handled by Cora Vander Broek) is a local writer for the very local newspaper and is working with her old friend JoAnne ( a sort of surrogate mother played by Chicago favorite Ann Whitney) on this year’s edition.
They have a daughter, Kelly (the adorable Lindsay Stock) , a high-schooler who feels that big business coming into their town’s lives is the start of the finish. When a huge Chicago company buys the fictitious Farmstead Cheese Factory, the whole town finds themselves caught between tradition and futures. Will they remain intact, operating as they have done for generations? Or, will this only be a starting point to de-unionizing and preparing to move the plant to a place where the costs will be even lower?
As someone who has been caught between a rock and a hard place, I know that every employee fears the future of what is about to happen.Several firms I have been employed with over my years have been bought out and while one prospered, the other failed quickly hurting a great number of people who had invested their working lives in building the company. In a matter of months, after the takeover, it was gone, and the lives of these people were changed. In this case, Kim ends up “selling out” as his daughter and the Union leader Kyle (Ty Olwin) put it, but is it really a sell-out or a plan to survive. After all, as we learn, his story is one that already had problems. His brother was given the family farm, so he had to find employment at Farmstead. He works with his friends and neighbors, but when offered the opportunity to move up to management, takes it. His powerful boss, who we never meet, has plans for him. Big plans! Or could it be that Elaine (the very sexy Angela Reed), his boss’s lonely wife is the one with the plan?
Elaine befriends Kat and becomes a regular visitor to their home. Her husband spends a great deal of time at corporate or doing corporate business, leaving her to fend for herself in a strange town with people who are far from her type. During the two acts with many short scenes, director Robert Falls, takes us on a trip into the hearts and souls of these people. We learn about their pasts, their relationships and the fear that they now have over the future. In this play we learn about unions and union busting. These are real events that many of us know are taking place even today ( perhaps even more often). It is fitting that someone like Falls is at the helm of this production as he can relate to the changing times that Gilman is looking at.
“Soups, Stews, and Casseroles:1976” is being presented in the smaller venue at The Goodman, The Owen, which has an open stage so when you walk in, the set jumps right out at you. Kevin Depinet has designed a kitchen that will make you feel that you are back in that time period and probably in a small town home as well. Seeing the wallpaper and the appliances (Harvest Gold and green) sure made me think back to those days. The lighting (Jesse Klug), costumes (Jenny Mannis) and sound (Richard Woodbury) made the technical parts of the show work and although there is no credit given for the props , they were solid and realistic.
When one looks at this story, one can truly look at what has happened in America over the last 40 years or so. Think about the year involved and how life was back then. A simpler, easier time. We had no electronic stuff! We communicated by talking! We were friendly with our neighbors and our co-workers! Over the years our lives have changed greatly and Gilman takes us down the path. I will tell you that while there are many ups and downs with our characters, the surprise ending is one that FEELS GOOD!
“Soups,Stews, and Casseroles: 1976” will continue at The Goodman Theatre, Owen through June 19th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
June 16th also at 2 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 and 7:30 p.m. NO evening on June 5th and 19th
Running Time 2 hours and 15 minutes with an intermission
Tickets range from $10-$40 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 312-443-3825 or online at www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Soups
Special events June 5th 5 p.m. a conversation with Ms Gilman and Mr. Falls
June 8th American Sign Performance
June 12th Audio described and touch -tour
June 19th open captioned visit http://www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Access
The Goodman is located at 170 N. Dearborn Street.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Soups, Stews, and Casseroles:1976”