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by Lauren Emily Whalen

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Playwright: Rebecca Gilman

At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: $10-45;; 312-443-3800. Runs through: March 10

Small towns in the Midwest are their own animal.

In some ways, like the happy families in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, they're all alike. There's not much to do, other than drink and go to church ( not at the same time. Usually ). Classmates are often the same from the first day of kindergarten to high school graduation. And after that—well, it all depends on your parents and the path they have set for you since you were small.

The trick to writing about small towns is encompassing all of this without pointing fingers. Showcasing the various people that actually do exist—the very religious, the college-bound, the working and the screwed—without relegating them to stereotypes. Putting oneself into their shoes without being a tourist, opting for nuance over pigeonhole. Rebecca Gilman's Twilight Bowl does all of this and more, perfectly capturing the essence of the Midwestern young woman: searching and questioning, swapping stories with her friends while constantly wondering, what the hell am I doing here?

Goodman's world premiere is set entirely in the title location: Regina Garcia's flawlessly designed set. The Twilight Bowl is where everyone congregates, to celebrate various milestones, to reunite when it's been too long, to welcome back its hometown heroes. In the beginning, a group of friends gather after closing to send off Sam ( Becca Savoy ), who's going to Ohio State on scholarship, and Sam's cousin Jaycee ( Heather Chrisler ) who's going … somewhere very different. Spanning three years, Twilight Bowl discusses opiods, terminations and multilevel marketing schemes through the eyes of Sam, Jaycee and their friends, including friendly yet watchful college dropout Brielle ( Mary Taylor ), devoutly Christian Sharlene ( Anne E. Thompson ) and hardworking Clarice ( Hayley Burgess ), who takes on extra work to afford a space of her own.

Twilight Bowl's cast and creative team is entirely female, along with Gilman and director Erica Weiss. According to Gilman, this was at her insistence and fully supported by the Goodman. In fact, Twilight Bowl was a commission for a university theater consortium who wanted a play about women in their twenties. Try to think of the last play you saw that could claim any of the above. Most likely, it's nearly impossible.

Men come up during the course of Twilight Bowl, in the form of absent fathers and ex-boyfriends. But these young women have much more on their plates: finding their place in the world, whether that's a giant university or their hometown. For everyone except Sam and Jaycee, leaving isn't really an option, and any self-discovery takes place between shifts. Gilman's realistic dialogue deftly explores class and privilege between jokes about masturbation ( surprise—women talk about it, too! ) and confrontations with Sam's new friend Maddy ( Angela Morris ), a visitor from Chicagoland's tony North Shore.

Gilman, Weiss and the ensemble display a deep understanding of not only young women, but these specific characters. With its perfect balance of comedy and tragedy, Twilight Bowl is an essential part of Goodman's season and the theatrical canon as a whole. In short, this play should be produced and performed everywhere, offering city folk a glimpse into a whole other universe and small-town survivors an opportunity to feel seen. "I don't always like these characters," I told a friend after curtain call. "But I know them."

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