Five men kneeling in a circle around an apartment coffee table all simultaneously inhale as a psychedelic cloud explodes. The lights that had shown the daily passage of time slowly fade into funky purples and swirling strobes. One of the guys lets out a guttural scream, then another sits up slowly. Suddenly a grooving dance beat fills the room, as someone tries to call out for Siri to stop the music. Like dominoes, these men release themselves to the power and freedom one can only get from true expression in a place free of judgment or normalities. Articles of clothing start flying off of some, people are on the tables and chairs gyrating, then they all turn to worship a mystical baseball bat, painted and spangled with puka shells.
Grasping at Male Intimacy
Ellen Fairey’s Support Group For Men is a play that tackles and touches on many issues in the zeitgeist of today (#MeToo, token racism, nonbinary pronouns, and police profiling, just to name a few), but at its core is a referendum on toxic masculinity. Set unapologetically in Chicago, the characters all show deep feelings of inadequacy, and furthermore, question their legitimacy as true men. There's Rodger (Keith Kupferer), a stalwart sort who Works cleaning the Bean at Millennium Park; Brian (Ryan Kitley), a “hip” 51-year old carrying out a seemingly perfect relationship with a younger woman; Del , whose wife is sick and suggesting he have an affair; and Kevin, a Puerto-Rican Genius Bar employee looking for a place to vent. Their solution is a very loosely Native American ritual, devised by Brian and complete with chance and chest pats, in which a baseball bat “talking stick” is passed around. The holder receives the privilege to air any feelings he wants, be they worries, struggles, goals yet to be achieved, or obstacles to be overcome, while the rest simply receive. Is the ritual perfectly politically correct? Not necessarily, but the muddled execution becomes endearing and even touching when you see that these lonely men in Wrigleyville just want a space to be sensitive.
Chicago Mid-Life Flair
If you’re a local who’s tired of plays depicting New York or tv shows set in LA, this is a must-see, at least as this Lakeview resident sees it. The classic rounded three windowed rotunda on the outer-side of the apartment, the four-starred Chicago flag, and the Cubs sign all are present in the set. Even the sound of the L-train going by is exactly right. This apartment however is owned by a man in his early fifties, so sitting on top of a bookshelf, nearby the brand new iMac desktop is an old 128K Macintosh. The dialogue also doesn’t shy away from obscure references, like the Golden Apple Diner, or bemoaning the gentrification of Wicker Park. As soon as you enter the theatre, you wonder if you accidentally stumbled into you friend’s place.
Goodman Theatre Brings Provocative Ensemble Repartee
From the perspective of this actor/playwright, one of the best features of this production is the various personalities bouncing around and reacting together in the apartment. In one such moment, Kitley is leading the group in a couple minutes of meditation. As the others struggle to sit fully cross-legged, or with which way their hands should face, Kupferer gets a bit bored, and slyly and stealthily reaches for a snack as the audience chortled. The group’s reactions to alleyway disturbances and run-ins with the police are equally filled with awkward variety. On a deeper note, Kupferer realization throughout the show that what was once light “locker room talk” now might be offensive, and then learning to be open to anything, masculine or not, is a really beautiful journey. Jeff Kurysz’s Alex needs to be left somewhat ambiguous to avoid spoiling anything, but for younger theatre enthusiasts, he provides an example of the young adult perspective on the definition of manliness. This veritable tightrope walk of a premise, in this audience member’s opinion, is carried extremely well by the cast and by Fairey’s all too relatable machismo-laced dialogue. Those who enjoyed Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men last year at Steppenwolf will definitely get a kick out of this production.
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 of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
Thru July 24th
Wednesdays/Thursdays/Sundays: 7:30 pm
Fridays/Saturdays: 8 pm
Saturdays/Sundays: 2 pm
170 N. Dearborn St.
Jeff Louis Kurysz