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THEATER REVIEW This
by Sean Margaret Wagner
2016-07-01

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Playwright: Melissa James Gibson. At: Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Rd. Tickets: 773-891-8985 or WindyCityPlayhouse.com; $15-$55. Runs through: Aug. 28

Prepare yourself for unmatched witticisms at the hands a trio of post-collegiate wordsmiths and the doctors/carpenters who love them ( and are no slouches, themselves ). Melissa James Gibson's This makes a cool, calculated splash on the Windy City Playhouse stage, and what it may lack in emotional depth, it more than makes up for with perfect entries for every blank space on your crossword puzzle.

After the birth of their infant son, Marrell and Tom invite old friends Jane and Alan to dinner with some ulterior motives in mind, namely, introducing recent widow Jane to handsome Doctor Without Borders Jean-Pierre. However, an innocent game lights an emotional powder keg under Tom and Jane, who are nursing wounds from marriages that have gone sour ( or have just gone away, for Jane ). Their infidelity is brief, but each of them takes pains to hide the ripples in the water that follow in its wake.

This may all sound incredibly heavy, but remember this examination of modern middle age is also a biting comedy. Tom and Marrell are the sort of parents who advise well-meaning visitors not to smoke because their baby's trying to kick his nicotine habit. Alan exploits his ability to perfectly recall events for small time television fame and his friends' amusement, but longs to do something more meaningful ( even if that something is say, handsome French doctor Jean Pierre ).

Director Carl Menninger has assembled a cast that works wonderfully with Melissa James Gibson's heady language. Brian Grey ( Jean-Pierre ) circles with easy charm, waiting for Merrell, Jane or Alan to succumb to his wiles. Stephen O'Connell ( Tom ) and Tania Richard ( Marrell ) are pitch perfect as a couple who used to argue passionately and now argue bitterly; roping in friends and spectators along the way. The real standouts however, are Amy Rubenstein ( Jane ) and Joe Zarrow ( Alan ). Their complexities are so strong and unique, we can't help but latch on. We share their malaise, their annoyances, their regrets.

Where this production needs a little shoring up is in emotional resonance. Melissa James Gibson has a mastery of puns, sarcastic rejoinders and descriptive language to scatter over this group of thirtysomethings' many monologues. However, the big emotional moments of This seem to careen at us from out of nowhere. When each of your characters is unfailingly eloquent and never at a loss for words, you can feel the distinct lack of any stuttering, trailing off or vocal befuddlement, and it can be distancing.

That said, I recommend having a gander at this visually and verbally stunning production from Windy City Playhouse. The company has crafted a gorgeous show that finds opulence in ordinary things and is guaranteed to strengthen your vocabulary.


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