Chicago Theater Review: THE CROWD YOU’RE IN WITH (AstonRep Theatre Company at The Raven)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 20, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


A very pointed question arrives near the end of Rebecca Gilman’s useful 2007 drama The Crowd You’re in With, first produced in Chicago ten years ago by Goodman Theatre. It’s posed by a young husband to a wife who badly wants to be a mother: “Do we love each other enough not to need to have a baby?”

At first hearing it seems to twist stuff wrong: Shouldn’t the baby be proof of love, not a means to make up for what’s missing?

As with Gilman’s other provocative works (Luna Gale, A True History of the Johnstown Flood, Spinning into Butter, Blue Surge, Boy Gets Girl, The Glory of Living), you leave the theater with your moral compass in need of recalibration. Specifically, you wonder whether the wife’s powerful reaction is inevitable or just one more dramatic possibility in a very open-ended script.

The detailed occasion (designed by Jeremiah Barr) is a July 4th barbecue in a very recognizable Chicago backyard — wooden porch, ivy on the fence, patriotic bunting, and chicken and burgers on the grill. The story, almost as basic, contrasts three couples who, representing diverging positions on the matter of procreation, exchange opinions, heatedly and honestly.

One pair of proven partners is well-advanced to parenthood, convinced they need to leave a part of themselves behind after they’re gone. But does music critic Dan (Nick Freed), vilified for voting for Ralph Nader, see their coming child as a “do-over” for his own failures? His wife Windsong (Maggie Antonijevic) doesn’t want her very visible baby to prove anything, just to be.

The second couple, mentioned above, are divided on whether marriage needs a child to make it matter or keep it together. Aware of her ticking biological clock, Melinda (Sara Pavlak McGuire) fears that Jasper (Martin Diaz-Valdes) is overthinking what should be a natural extension of their shared love. Mired in an early mid-life crisis, he believes that two is the best number for preserving feelings that were never meant for a third party.

The third duo (Lynn Baker and Javier Carmona), liberals in their 60s, are childless and seemingly anti-children. But they’re not misanthropes who believe, like the late Quentin Crisp, that “other people are a mistake.” No, they’re just acutely aware that for them the time was never right to fix what was never broken. Their experiences prove decisive by play’s end.

The barbecue proves a fiasco. No question, the fault lines exposed by Gilman’s insistent arguments about the pros of procreation will fester and persist. But, collateral damage aside, The Crowd You’re in With delivers persuasive exchanges and complex cases. We’re well beyond preaching to the converted.

Derek Bertelsen’s crisp staging for AstonRep Theatre Company keeps this 80-minute chatfest fresh and spontaneous, even or especially when the dialogue sometimes seems more debate than revelation. However natural these seven assured performances (Erin O’Brien plays a single friend for contrast’s sake) inevitably the characters are less important than the questions they raise but, happily, refuse to settle. (One dilemma, relevant to same-sex couples contemplating adoption, is whether people who refuse to reproduce defy the gift of life itself.)

Gilman’s wise drama examines choices and consequences. It’s bound to provoke post-show discussions among audience members eager to sort out her ambivalent arguments for making babies.

photos by Paul Goyette

The Crowd You’re in With
AstonRep Theatre Company
The Raven Theatre (West Stage), 6157 N. Clark St.
Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8; Sun at 3:30
ends on June 16, 2019
for tickets, call 773.828.9129 or visit AstonRep

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