Theater Review: THE GULF (About Face Theatre at Theater Wit in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 18, 2020

in Theater-Chicago


When we enter the theater, we see two women in a small fishing boat. It’s surrounded by huge buckets depicting the shallows of an inlet in the Alabama delta. Overhead netting seems to catch the stars. For nearly ninety minutes, this seemingly static situation becomes the engrossing story-setting for The Gulf, Audrey Cefaly’s 2017 one-act.

Now in About Face Theatre’s engaging Chicago premiere performed arena style at Theater Wit, Artistic Director Megan Carney’s staging gives an honest script the focused immediacy it deserves.

A volatile six-year relationship unspools between Kendra and Betty, divergent Dixie lesbians who seem divided but not conquered. As Kendra drops her fishing line, trolling the flats hoping to hook some redfish, the boat revolves like the conversation until the motor founders altogether.

Creating their own gulf in the Gulf as the light symbolically dims, these reluctant lovers display daunting differences but somehow manage to create a bond beyond co-dependency. As the author says, one lost lover wants freedom, the other peace. Can they make enough sacrifices to finally grab it all?

The younger partner, Betty (an ebullient Deanna Myers) is sassy, chatty, and needy, ever engaging in sometimes irritating speculations about all and nothing. Buoyant with positivity, this restless bartender is alienated from her backwater origins. Her connection to Kendra gives her purpose and direction, but Betty dreams of a college degree to make her a caretaker by income as much as inclination.

An opposite that doesn’t always attract, Kendra (a coiled and concentrated Kelli Simpkins) would rather fish than gab. Literal-minded, emotionally distant, temperamentally fearless, and too solitary even for this depressing locale, to Betty’s frustration Kendra aspires to little more than working in a sewage plant — and fishing.

When Betty, influenced by a self-help book (What Color Is Your Parachute?), quizzes her about other vocations (a prison guard being the surest), she has none of it. (Her parachute is red.) She’s a control freak with little to control, mainly bumptious Betty.

Waxing into eruptions of jealousy or waning into unspoken and unfinished business, their small/girl talk takes in Mardi Gras memories, evasive parents, and fretful friends. It also erupts: Kendra displays her darkest side over Betty’s alleged serial infidelity.

Like their boat, they’re drifting unless they can anchor each other in more than regrets and recriminations.

It all feels very real, though there are euphoric moments as their passions ebb and flow: A musical backdrop accompanies imaginary candles floating on the waves.

Nothing major happens here — that’s how honest The Gulf ends up.

Let’s just say that this is the kind of play that requires an “Intimacy & Fight Director” (Gaby Labotka). That just about says it all.

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Gulf
About Face Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on February 15, 2020
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit About Face

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Murray January 27, 2020 at 1:26 am

“It all feels very real” – the best way to describe it in one sentence. Just great.


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