Playwright: Aurin Squire
At: Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: $15-23; ChimeraEnsemble.com . Runs through: July 8
Even in the most liberal of environments, interracial couples still face an uphill battle.
Not just with society and older generations, but within themselves: How do you navigate different upbringings, cultures and beliefs and forge a meaningful relationship of which many still don't approve? Aurin Squire, a Brooklyn-based playwright who's also written for the television shows This is Us and The Good Fight, deftly explores such a marriage in Don't Smoke in Bed. Chimera Ensemble hosts the U.S. premiere, which features a strong performance by Kai A. Ealy and an intelligent portrait of an interracial marriage in modern-day New York.
Don't Smoke in Bed is a series of webcam interviews with Richard ( Ealy ), who was born and raised in Jamaica, and Sheryl ( Nicole Fabbri ), a woman of Irish heritage originally from Ohio. Now academics with a shared love of Victorian nursery rhymes, the two met at a party, married and are expecting their first child. They've also been chosen for a story series in The New York Times, which could possibly lead to a book deal. Over several interviews with an unseen journalist, Richard and Sheryl reveal the obstacles that continue to exist in their marriage. Neither set of parents fully approve, and both husband and wife have their own private worries and fears. Can they make it work?
Over a fast-paced one hour and 40 minutes, Squire's script dives deep into Richard and Sheryl's minds, their past experiences and their present challenges that love may or may not be able to overcome. Director Chika Ike gives each character equal respect and care, acknowledging their places in the world as well as their blind spots. Intimacy designer Gaby Labotka ( assisted by Courtney Abbott ) creates a gorgeous and fully believable marital relationship, from the insatiable early days to the utter exhaustion of being parents coupled with desire. It's during the more intimate moments that we feel completely drawn into Richard and Sheryl's world, the ups that keep them together and the downs that may drive them apart. Milo Blue's set design beautifully recreates a New York City bedroom, pretty and compact, and the production's open captioning makes the production accessible to more audience members.
Ealy is a wonderfully flawed Richard, bringing life to every word, and though Fabbri tries her best, she can't quite keep up with Ealy and her Sheryl occasionally comes off as whiny. It doesn't help that both actors noticeably dropped several lines on opening night and seemed less than fully comfortable with the challenging script. Hopefully this will improve as the run progresses, because Don't Smoke in Bed is an important play, showcasing the complexities of a marriage with the added pressure of "performing" for a national audience.