The Crowd You're In With
I’m kind of ashamed by how engaged I was by Gilman’s latest. Shame probably isn’t the reaction the playwright had hoped to elicit for her depiction of a North Side backyard barbeque gone awry, in which three couples bicker over the pros and cons of having and not having children, renting and buying, and career versus family. But I’m of an age where these are the kinds of things my friends and I, too, discuss at barbeques. Which made me cringe at the thought that the crowd I’m in with might sound to the outside observer like Gilman’s intensely self-regarding lakefront liberals, obsessing over their first-world problems.
The fine actors in Goldberg’s ensemble don’t play characters so much as points of view. At a Fourth of July fete, Gilman assembles a thirtyish couple expecting their first kid any moment, another thirtyish couple trying to get pregnant, and the trying couple’s sixtyish landlords, who chose not to have children. The playwright tosses in plenty of references recognizable to Chicagoans of a particular social stratum—Blue State blues, hipster-dad wardrobes, baby onesies that invoke parental punk-rock tastes—and Goldberg populates the soundtrack with Wilco and Liz Phair.
But references don’t add up to drama, and Crowd feels less like a play than the kind of personal essay we’d find in The New Yorker or maybe even O: The Oprah Magazine. The in-crowd will see its reflection, but it won’t learn anything new about itself.