Reviewed by Judy Richter
Playwright Rebecca Gilman and director Amy Glazer have an affinity for San Francisco's Magic Theatre, which has now staged the world premiere of four of Gilman's plays directed by Glazer. The latest entry is "The Crowd You're In With," which looks at relationships and social pressures.
Running just under 90 minutes with no intermission, the play is set in a Chicago backyard on the Fourth of July during President George W. Bush's second term, for there are references to the Iraq war and other current events. Jasper (T. Edward Webster) and Melinda (Makela Spielman), a married couple in their 30s, are hosting another couple, Dan (Kevin Rolston) and Windsong (Allison Jean White), for a barbecue before going to the fireworks along Lake Michigan. Windsong, who is pregnant, and Melinda are longtime friends. They're soon joined by Jasper and Melinda's landlords, Karen (Lorri Holt) and Tom (Charles Shaw Robinson), an older couple who live upstairs The group is finally completed by the late arrival of Dan's friend Dwight (Chris Yule).
During the course of the play, much of the conversation concerns children -- particularly whether or not to have them. Jasper and Melinda have been trying for pregnancy for several months with no success. Tom and Karen -- despite repeated questioning -- defend their decision to be childless. Jasper ultimately realizes that he doesn't want children despite Melinda's fervent desire to become a mother.
Gilman, Glazer and the actors skillfully develop the characters, showing them to be deeper than our first impressions of them. For example, Dan, a pop music critic for the Chicago Tribune, seems stuck in some kind of arrested development, and he's not very bright, yet he's sincere in his love for Windsong and his dreams for their unborn daughter. Dwight, a rock musician and waiter, comes across as a boor, yet he has a hilarious speech about what happens when people bring young children to the restaurant. Jasper's ambiguity about becoming a father becomes clearer to him, thanks in large part to a late scene with just him, Tom and Karen, who talk about their longtime relationship, their deep love for each other and their deliberate decision to remain childless.
The action takes place on Erik Flatmo's backyard set, aided by Kurt Landisman's light design, which shows the fading of daylight as the sun goes down. Meg Neville's costumes are well suited to the characters, and Sara Huddleston's sound design contributes to the ambience.
Gilman sprinkles her script with some one-liners that veer toward sitcom, but overall she examines a serious, deeply personal subject, presenting all sides of the issue fairly. Kudos, too, to the cast, especially Holt, Robinson and Webster, who have the most interesting roles.