Company: Theater Wit
Venue: Theater Wit (1229 W Belmont Ave)
Die Roll: 13
Every major metropolitan area has a suburb where the nouveau riche congregate. That suburb’s name is often then embraced as a code word for self-important, ostentatious, absurdly materialistic, terrible people. Making fun of the people from such a place is a safe bet in comedy, especially within the borders of their proximate urban center. Really, it’s comedic low-hanging fruit. So, it is with great pleasure that I can tell you that I was surprised that isn’t the tack taken by Mat Smart’s “Naperville”, currently playing at Theater Wit.
This is a play about people in a Caribou Coffee shop (remarkably well rendered by Joe Schermoly). It is a play about new beginnings in a place where one normally has to be established to fit in. But, where one man long ago decided to try for a new beginning of his own. For anyone who has spent any time in the Naperville area, the name of Joseph Naper is a familiar one. After all, the town is named for him. And his new beginning—shifting from life as a shipwright to that of a farmer, townsman—is held as an allegory for her own life by one of the show’s primary characters, Anne (Abby Pierce).
The play kicks off when Anne, a recently divorced woman recording a podcast, meets TC (Andrew Jessop) who is the new manager of the Caribou. TC is desperate to not lose this newly acquired job. Going through his day from one nervous twitch to the next, TC encounters Candice (Laura T. Fisher) and her son Howard (Mike Tepeli) who are dealing with the fact that Candice is newly blind and stubbornly refusing her son’s assistance. Charlie Strater plays the last of the five characters to enter the scene: an evangelical Christian named Roy whose life isn’t necessarily in a new place on his own, but who is newly a part of each of the lives of the others.
Director Jeremy Wechsler’s approach to the script is one that makes a light slice-of-life comedy one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. It is simple, direct, and completely truthful to the situation. The characters talk directly to one another, so the actors do just that. These are the people you would meet in a suburban coffee chain store. They aren’t on epic journeys. They are each dealing with the little troubles that life throws their way, or that they have brought upon themselves. Wechsler’s cast is extreme adept at capturing the quiet desperation in which they are all living.
I find it intriguing and worthwhile that Smart’s characters are all likeable, but only up to a point. His writing makes me care about Anne and Howard. But he strategically places some of their most glaring flaws out in the open as well. It is easily seen that they are not good people. None of the folks in this show are. Even Roy, who goes through most of the show as an inexplicably good version of a born-again Christian (lacking any of the hypocrisy that is often associated with those who adopt that label), eventually fails us as he is part of the force that ruins TC’s day/life with very little concern for the barista’s well being.
This is a play that creates hope in the heart of the viewer, only to dash it and then build it up into something better. That’s the way one begins anew. That is what this play is about. And the audience gets to go on that journey over and over again with this crew of five on a voyage of discovery into what makes real life so inherently dramatic. I cannot recommend this show enough. It is well-crafted in every aspect. The writing is really good. The design work is amazing. The directing and acting are the real deal. All the way around it’s tremendous.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: If Hell is other people, then so might be Heaven.
RATING: d20 – “One of the Best”