The Crowd You’re In With

A backyard bar-b-que turns into a forum for life-altering decision in "The Crowd You're In With."

Walking Shadow Theatre Company’s fifth season begins with the local premier of a play by Rebecca Gilman, The Crowd You’re In With. Set in present day Chicago, and played entirely on the patio behind a small apartment building, the private environment suits the intimate nature of the conversations between couples and among friends. In fact, the People’s Center Theater did its part in creating the ambience of life out the window of the brown line, complete with noises from other floors that passed nicely for the rumblings of the “L’s” trains.

The play’s dilemma is rooted in the simple premise of whether or not to have children, but as anyone who has ever pondered that decision can tell you, there are so many larger questions and life experiences that figure into it. One couple, Dan and Windsong, played by Joe Bombard and Bethany Ford, is pregnant with their first child; Jasper and Melinda (Adam Whisner and Lindsay Marcy), are trying to get pregnant; the older landlords, Tom and Karen (Jim Pounds and Maggie Bearmon Pistner) are childless by choice. Shad Cooper plays Dwight, a friend who is single and still sporting his college boy persona.

Truly an ensemble piece, the characters share much (politics, education, interests) but are uniquely individual personalities guided by different inner compasses. The mini-conflicts and their resolutions play off of these similarities and differences creating a bumpy but navigable landscape. With only tiny timing glitches, fine performances were turned in by all, but Whisner’s performance as Melinda’s conflicted husband was as compelling as any I’ve seen this year. I wasn’t watching acting; I was witnessing first-hand the unfolding of his inner turmoil.

The beauty of this play is that it is so much like real life – and maddeningly so. The awkward pauses, the careless and hurtful remarks, the offhand one-up-manship that often accompanies a small party are familiar and provocative. What do they mean? In this play, they have as much weight inside the heads of each audience member as they do with the characters on the stage.

We cannot help but picture ourselves participating in this dialogue, rendered with so much restraint and subtlety. It won’t make you squirm and it won’t solve anything for you, but it will make you think, and empathize in some way with each viewpoint. This production is a breath of fresh air drifting across the Twin Cities acting landscape. Director Amy Rumenie is to be commended for containing those nasty gusts.

The Crowd You’re In With runs through November 20.

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