From the new theater company the Den comes a play so old-fashioned it makes You Can’t Take It with You look avant-garde. Inge’s 1955 work concerns a group of travelers snowed in at a Kansas bus stop—the kind of place where patrons trade bits o’ intergenerational wisdom over plates stacked with steaming eggs, men defend loose women from their belligerent boyfriends by punching the lugs out cold, and the sole uppity East Coast interloper has both a Ph.D. and a record of molestation.
The Den’s production—from novice directors (and longtime actors) Mortensen and Martin—features a notably clunky staging. Much of the action clumps inartfully at the stage-right dining counter. The directors also make basic storytelling missteps: Several ostensibly discreet conversations, for example, take place roughly a yard from the person discussed. Inge’s hyperrealist text doesn’t support this as a stylistic choice, particularly when the deep playing space offers a trouble-free alternative.
Still, in this bright production of a prehistoric chestnut, Liz Zweifler emanates warmth as the deep-voiced restaurant matron Grace, while Brian Kavanaugh brings a blustery, aptly overcompensatory energy to the big-talking, virginal cowboy Bo. The others do just fine, verging only occasionally into too-broad indicating (a fierce snarl and a subtle fisticuffs gesture to indicate wrath, for instance). The evening’s real winner is the Den itself, a vast, attractive loft space in Wicker Park that the program indicates the company plans to rent out cheap. Play makers, take note.