Chicago Theatre Review
The Way We Were
Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976 – Goodman Theatre
Some of the mess this country has found itself in today stems back to a time when the authority of the union was first being challenged. In Rebecca Gilman’s world premiere, directed by Robert Falls, we first encounter this rural Wisconsin family in their kitchen, the center of any home. Designed by Kevin Depinet with an emphasis on minute detail (a familiar owl macrame wall hanging dominating the room) we see dark wooden cupboards lined with avocado green and goldenrod yellow appliances. Even the shelves and fridge are filled with realistic products, dishes and cutlery.
Kat and her elderly long-time friend JoAnne are hard at work on the electric typewriter, putting the final touches on the recipes to be included in this year’s town cookbook, a Bicentennial fund-raiser, for which this play is named. At the snack bar teenage daughter Kelly is working on her current events project for the high school debate team. While Kat makes a few dollars writing a column for the local newspaper, Kim is the real breadwinner, employed for 17 years at Farmstead Cheese, a company modeled after the popular Wisconsin mail order venue, Swiss Colony.
It seems, however, that the company has been purchased by a Chicago conglomerate called Consolidated Foods, with the intentions of doing just that. They plan to modernize and consolidate several departments within this family-run business, thereby challenging the union and laying off several longtime employees. Kyle is the young worker who was elected union foreman and it’s left up to him to fight the big-time operators who are trying to stick it to the man…the little man, in this case.
With the kinds of monkey business we’ve experienced recently in this state under Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and his cronies, this play begins to feel all too real and disturbingly contemporary. Soon Kim is promoted and, while he can finally see a light at the end of his financial tunnel, he begins to suffer emotionally from his loss of longtime friendships and coworker support. The friction continues, especially as both Kat and Kim finds themselves under the spell of Elaine, his new boss’ restless, Highland Park wife. Soon domestic friction compounds the plot.
This isn’t one of Gilman’s most exciting plays. While pleasantly entertaining, it moves along just a little too leisurely to be any more than interesting; and many of the plot twists can be seen coming a mile away. Still the talented cast, led by Cliff Chamberlain as Kim, Cora VanderBroek as Kat and Ty Olwin as Kyle (providing the only real sparks of excitement in this story) are all very good. Angela Reed is an interesting, seductive Elaine, while Lindsay Stock does well playing a typical teenager testing the waters and challenging everyone at every turn. Ann Whitney is especially excellent and brings gravitas and sagely advice as JoAnne. This play is a blast from the past that reminds its audiences of some of the background for how we became the way we are today. It’s a look at the way we were.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 21-June 19 by the Goodman Theatre in the Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 312-443-3800 or by going to www.GoodmanTheater.org/Soups.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com