4 out of 4 stars
Twilight Bowl written by Rebecca Gilman illustrates brilliantly the twilight years of female adolescence. After graduating from a small Wisconsin high school, Sam heads to college on scholarship—but her cousin Jaycee’s future isn’t looking as bright. As the young women and their friends face adulthood, their local bowling alley becomes a place to celebrate triumphs, confront challenges and perhaps even forge new identities. Gilman wonderfully questions the blueprint for what makes a successful life. She is also the most-produced contemporary playwright in Goodman Theatre history and a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
While you don’t ever stop learning, there is definitely a learning curve that happens post high school particularly for young women. Social taboo topics like sex and masturbation are weaponized against each other. They are used as a rebellion to childhood – showing maturity when at that age you think you know what maturity is. Other major topics this piece touches on include drugs, alcohol, abuse, prison, money, and the biggest one- the future.
Erica Weiss directs an incredible cast through Gilman’s insightful work. Haley Burgess (Clarice) and Heather Chrisler (Jaycee) stand out for the delicate waters these two delve into through their characters. Two best friends face a difficult situation ahead as Jaycee faces prison time and Clarice is just looking to make ends meet. This dramatic divergence in friendship feels so potent and based in reality. Burgess conveys the stubborn desperation found in miscommunication, while Chrisler perfectly evokes personal struggle and conflict through body language and demeanor. Women struggle with fall out friendships or large distance damaging their relationships or in the very least changing them. Weiss navigates these complex issues and effectually and subtly that pulls at your core.
The production holds many foil characters, which serve as examples to the different spheres of relationships women experience in the lives. The bias that often blinds women from other women’s plights encourages the idea of constantly being at odds. This play challenges that concept. Sam is a likable anxiety troubled privileged girl played by Becca Savoy. Sam is contrasted against her local friends like Brielle, who has never left their town, still works at the bowling alley and tried community college that just didn’t work out for her. The two girls have a conversation about what it’s like to be pressured by school through money, grades, extracurriculars and the balancing act it takes. Sam is ready to throw in the towel not even fully into her first semester at college, meanwhile Brielle knowing the struggle of trying to make college work encourages her to stick it out. “‘Cause people will treat you different. If you make it,” Brielle says to Sam in Scene 3. Brielle played by Mary Taylor strikes a cord in anyone that has tried something that didn’t work out. Taylor’s performance truly gave me chills. Insightful and expressive, Taylor shows the confusions from uncertainty holding one back from even trying. The melancholy that hangs in the air is palpable.
Word play is excellently written and executed, the strong accents at the beginning then fade into a subtleness. The work is so well structured, it honestly felt like I was back in college. Being in my 20’s myself, this production felt like the recent past for me. Learning curves that only come with time as a young woman, particularly one going away to college and returning and the shifting dynamics between home life and your purpose in life. Realities hit hard and seem overwhelming as bills pile up versus the pressures college brings with it all revolving around performance on irrelevant core curriculum classes. Whether it’s now or later, everyone comes into adulthood differently and this production speaks to that.
The set was fantastically designed by Regina Garcia. The neon beer signs, wood paneling, and the “stay awhile” vinyl seating creates a comforting atmosphere. The bowling alley charm with league pictures hanging on the wall and trophies lined up above the bar gave the space a Midwestern sense of home. A place stuck in time, yet served as a gathering place: the safe place. This centerpiece of these women’s world slowly diminishes over time. The physical space lingers only to the feelings and the safety blanket fades. The home you once held so dear you’ve outgrown. And that is okay. This is truly female empowered production! The playwright made it very clear from the start that the production should include a core team of female crew from director, design team to actors. See Chicago Tribune article: Men still dominate top theater jobs. Here’s how that hurts women written by Rebecca Gilman.
This production is a graceful punch to the gut. A play that explores abstract concepts not often seen in theater all together in such a wonderfully structured way. The old clashes with the new and turns into something messy. While you grow older, the acceptance of female empowerment reigns in your blood. Knowing to swallow your pride and that acceptance is a part of the package. Themes that are not categorized by a single generation. Girls struggling with identifying rape, uncertainty in more ways than one, self- empowerment, tricky relationships, family issues, shedding naivety, coming into your own and trying to figure it all out along the way. As I have said before, the recent past seemed to be playing out on that stage for me. I believe the more young women see this the better. To know that these topics are not taboo, that there is strength and acceptance awaiting, and most importantly: there is no cookie cutter blueprint for achieving “success” in life.
Twilight Bowl runs now through March 10th in the Owen Theater at Goodman Theatre. Tickets and more information can be found at https://www.goodmantheatre.org/twilightbowl.
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!