PICKSINSIX Review: SUPPORT GROUP FOR MEN
TALK ONLY WHEN HOLDING THE STICK!
Uproarious new comedy… Life is made up of rules and rituals, a fact that is clearly established in the opening moments of Ellen Fairey’s uproarious new comedy Support Group for Men now in its world premiere at Goodman Theatre. The answer to the question of what might happen when four men gather for their Thursday night session - away from the watchful eyes of wives, lovers, and friends - is in the expert hands of director Kimberly Senior who deftly navigates a talented cast through the root causes of loneliness, inadequacy, and aging we all experience. It’s all from the man’s point of view - the inside story about how men are perceived by other men, how they may react under certain circumstances and ultimately, whether or not they are ready to talk only when holding the stick. Spoiler Alert: They are not.
A sacred place of safety… The seven rules of the group to live by are: “We are in a sacred place of safety. We are brothers. We are men. Our feelings are our own. We DO NOT give advice or comment on other people’s feelings or situations. We are only here to bear witness. We only talk when we have THE STICK.” In this support group, as in life, breaking the rules can have hilarious consequences.
Sorting through issues… The primary ritual, which involves a sort of confessional that has been developed by group host Brian (Ryan Kitley), allows the support group members to express themselves and share their feelings without the interruption of the other members. The group includes Roger (Keith Kupferer), Delano (Anthony Irons) and Kevin (Tommy Rivera-Vega) who have assigned group names Floating Squirrel (Kupferer), Running Buffalo (Irons), Silver Eagle (Rivera-Vega), and Sleeping Hawk (Kitley). The group is sorting through issues related to changing social norms at a precise moment in 2017 when the #MeToo movement is evolving.
Wide-ranging conversation… There are a few outrageously funny twists along the way involving the patrol team of Officers Caruso and Nowak (Sadieh Rifai and Eric Slater) and Alex (Jeff Kurysz). The other aspects of this 90-minute night out, set in a third-story apartment in Wrigleyville (brilliant work by set designer Jack Magaw, lighting designer Jen Schriever with Jeremy Cunningham and sound by Richard Woodbury), are best discovered in the course of watching all the delightfully entertaining chaos unfold.
A sensitive balance… This is a play primarily about and including men, all decent, regular, rosé-swilling, power-meditating guys, who react protectively, as everyone tends to do, especially if we feel threatened or witness injustice. It is clear from Fairey’s clever script that we – that is, all human beings - are in this together. Or to put it another way, we never fail in our human interactions if we always try to do the right thing and are not afraid to examine our own feelings along the way. There is a sensitive balance shining from within Fairey’s refreshing and ground-breaking work that Senior has unearthed for our own enjoyment.
The takeaway… Perhaps the world would be a much better place if we could follow the rules, only express ourselves when holding the stick, acknowledge everyone’s right to an opinion, treat those opinions with respect even if they differ from our own, and above all, listen more, both to the people around us and to the conversation we are having with ourselves. All of this is progressively harder to grasp as we age into the third act of life, a time that even though we may be better prepared to follow the rules, we are not ready to ignore that youthful feeling inside that allows us to bend them. The secret, of course, in this new age of social awareness, is to find the sweet spot between the rules and the rituals, something that the brilliant cast of Support Group for Men will be doing through July 29th at Goodman.
SUPPORT GROUP FOR MEN
Written by Ellen Fairey
Directed by Kimberly Senior
through July 29th
Listen to our podcast CONVERSATION with Kimberly Senior
For more reviews, visit: Theatre In Chicago