The Gift Theatre A SWELL IN THE GROUND Review – Is This the Right Path?

Sometimes when life is passing you by or you’re reflecting on memories, it feels like the years could be projected on the wall behind you. Your mind jumps from place to place, all the while thinking, how did you end up here? The Gift Theatre’s most recent production, A SWELL IN THE GROUND follows four friends through various points in their lives as they intersect and their relationships change. We pick apart moments to find out, how did they end up here?

The Gift Theatre’s Relationship Tangle

On the verge of graduating college into “adulthood,” Olivia and Nate (played by Sydney Charles and Keith Neagle respectively) meet by chance. Fast forward years later, they’ve built a seemingly well put together life as successful adults. But sometimes the past doesn’t always stay in the past. Abigail and Charles, fellow college buddies played by Darci Nalepa and Andrew Muwonge, reconnect with Olivia and Nate on separate occasions and offer each of them a different path.

A SWELL IN THE GROUND flips back and forth through the years this group of friends has known each other - from college roommates, to spouses, to families.Their lives are messy and it just goes to show love and friendship is never simple.

Sydney Charles and Keith Neagle in The Gift Theatre’s world premiere of A SWELL IN THE GROUND Photo: Claire Demos

Up Close and Personal

In the intimate space of the Gift Theatre, we’re up close and personal with our cast members. It’s perfect for catching subtle facial expressions, like Darci Nepala’s. It also makes each of their emotions seem a thousand times more intense.

When Olivia sets up a picnic at home surprising Nate, we feel her desire to work on their relationship and the love and care she took preparing this. When sparks begin to fly and the evening escalates, both their anger shakes the theatre through Sydney Charles’ piercing stare and Keith Neagle’s biting remarks.

The black box nature of the theatre also lends itself to projections designed by Smooch Medina. As the timeline bounces around, we get the years projected on the back wall. The transition sequences also have cool projections of abstract shapes that pair well with the soundtrack designed by Christopher Kriz. Sometimes the scenes moved very quickly before we knew what was happening, so these are helpful technical aspects to keep the timeline straight!

Issues Spanning Multiple Generations

A SWELL IN THE GROUND touches on a lot of issues that young adults might relate to - finding satisfaction in your career, dealing with the death of a parent, losing your identity, wondering if your college relationship is the love of a lifetime.

Playwright Janine Nabers weaves all of these throughout the story without it being obvious. Everything is subtle in this play where nothing is given away, but all the information is slowly given to us by the end.

Though these issues might be seem only relevant to 20-something year olds, that’s not to say this show won’t appeal to those of an older demographic either. By the end our characters are on completely different life paths than they started on - perhaps something audience members with more life experiences can relate to.

Andrew Muwonge and Sydney Charles in The Gift Theatre’s world premiere of A SWELL IN THE GROUND Photo: Claire Demos

A SWELL IN THE GROUND speaks to a vast majority of audience members and leaves us questioning whether the choices we make early on are the right ones or if we’ll end up somewhere beyond what we imagined.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Note: an excerpt from this review now appears in Theatre in Chicago.


Friday, October 20 – Sunday, December 10, 2017
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm
Saturdays at 3:30 pm & 7:30 pm
Sundays at 2:30 pm.
Please note: there will not be a performance on Saturday, October 21 at 3:30 pm or Thursday, November 23 (Thanksgiving) or Friday, December 1.


The Gift Theatre
4802 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60630



$30 – $40
Tickets are currently available online at the Gift Theatre website or by calling the box office at (773) 283-7071.


Claire Demos

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