Total Rating: 
November 4, 2017
First Floor Theater
Theater Type: 
The Den
Theater Address: 
1333 North Milwaukee Avenue
Leah Nanako Winkler

Arnel Sancianco's scenic depiction of the summer home once owned by now-deceased Hollywood mogul Derek Donnelly boasts a beachfront porch in its foreground and a large dining table farther upstage. Here, the surviving Donnellys—widow Blythe, stepdaughter Mary, sons Joshua and Christopher (the latter accompanied by "personal assistant" Charlotte, whose surname we never learn)—have gathered, following the sale of the property, to pack their belongings and discuss the terms of the late patriarch's will.

These characters are played by Latinx actors Jazmin Corona and Jose Nateras, African-American actor Kai Ealy, and Asian-American actors Deanna Myers and Aurora Adachi-Winter. Everyone except Adachi-Winter is wearing a blond wig.

In a playbill note, Leah Nanako Winkler acquaints us with a division of dramatic literature she dubs "White People By The Water"—a canon encompassing Chekhov, O'Neill, Terrence McNally, A.R. Gurney, and numerous other writers devoted to recounting the woes of the privileged classes. After encountering a plethora of theater seasons dominated thereby, our author proposes to deconstruct this popular genre and, in doing so, expose the restrictive perimeters of its insular universe.

The Donnelly clan's troubles are undeniably first-world—Mary suffers from gluten intolerance, Joshua and Christopher squabble over who will inherit their sire's motorcycle, Blythe laments a favorite supper club's new proprietorship. Their language is childishly euphemistic. (Christopher expresses his disgust in an impassioned "Baaaaaaarrrf!) Huge swaths of exposition hang from the dialogue like so much moss. Subconscious agendas are confessed freely and frequently, while bursts of melodic and terpsichoreal spectacle break out at intervals. At one point, someone declares, "Go back to August Osage County!" At another, a shout-out references a Chicago theater critic known for controversial views (a gag presumably adapted to each city hosting this simultaneous world premiere.)

The only person immune to these aberrations is Charlotte, whose claim to a "New Haven education" hides a less prestigious childhood, and whose social-climbing aspirations finally spur her to flee "all these white people!" to seek her fortune in less culturally stagnant realms.

Hutch Pimentel and his cast embrace their satirical subtext with unswerving conviction. Winkler's diatribe could have made its case in under its current 105 intermissionless minutes, but there is no denying the fresh light her observations shine on a sociological profile long overdue for examination.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 10/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
October 2017