Chicago Theater Review: SOUTH OF SETTLING (Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre)

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by Samantha Nelson on June 22, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


The best part of the Emmy-winning television series Friday Night Lights isn’t the football drama, but the amazing chemistry between the actors that play the power couple of Coach Eric and Tami Taylor as they navigate life in small town Texas. Set in neighboring Louisiana, South of Settling draws its strength from the same dynamic, providing a beautifully intimate look at the rhythms of a longtime married couple. Like a pool of water, their peacefulness hides some dark truths, but they’re only visible when something is thrown in to disturb it.

Samantha Nelson’s Chicago review of South of Settling at SteppenwolfThe new show from Texas-born playwright Emily Schwend follows Kate (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Irwin Deckhouse (Keith Kupferer) as they host Kate’s cousin Amy (Nicole Wiesner) and her new husband Randall (Jeff Trainor) for the weekend. Adam Goldstein’s direction and Brooks’ and Kupferer’s performances perfectly compliment the script by displaying an impressively organic dynamic between the middle-aged couple. They’re a team whether they’re unloading the dishwasher, setting up a sofa bed or joking about broken plates and cheese Irwin isn’t allowed to eat.

Samantha Nelson’s Chicago review of South of Settling at SteppenwolfAmy has come with Randall for an amazing sounding new job in Missouri, calling on her cousin’s hospitality after years of estrangement. The deeper issues of abandonment and family conflict are slowly peeled back like an onion only after the Deckhouses can come to terms with Randall. He’s meant to be much younger than Amy, though Wiesner doesn’t look old enough for that to feel true. His spotty employment history and jokes about meth don’t go over well with Kate, who acts the perfect hostess even as Brook projects palpable distaste. Schwend’s dialogue keeps things natural, with speeches about the past and future plans delivered in breathy run on sentences that keep them from feeling like true monologues. Both Wiesner and Brooks really shine when the conflicts do reach their boiling points, showing they can go from civility and cheerful friendliness into full on rage instantly.

Samantha Nelson’s Chicago review of South of Settling at SteppenwolfThe show’s only weakness is it’s secondary plot, which follows the Deckhouse’s attempts to help a troubled teen (Joey deBettencourt) that Kate teaches and Irwin employs at the local grocery store. The plot does provide some moments that show Kate is willing to ask hard questions but won’t answer them, but by the end of the first act his story becomes entirely predictable. The scene where the characters catch up feels way too much like Schwend is crafting an ad for the It Gets Better Project. That misstep can’t mar the play’s beautiful conclusion, where Schwend touchingly brings things full circle. The show acknowledges that life may be filled with challenges and disappointment, but they’re easier if you’ve found a real partner.

photos by Michael Brosilow

South of Settling
Steppenwolf Theatre Company at Steppenwolf ‘s Garage Theatre in Chicago
scheduled to end on June 24
for tickets, visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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