November 19, 2007

Review: The Crowd You're In With

I think a better name for this play is: You are Your Peers.

Rebecca Gilman’s play will be with me a long time, but it will only be at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco through December 9th. Like a good book or a really excellent film, a powerful artistic work that moved at least one audience members to tears, it will be with me a long time.

The setting: a backyard BBQ. The dialogue centers around family planning and family choice. I remember writing about my own backyard experience in this post: The Question. I had no idea that such an interaction could be turned into a stage play.

The main characters in this play are one pregnant couple, one not-pregnant-yet couple, and the landlady and her lord, and you guessed it, they are a childfree couple. Let me just say the odd couple didn’t mix so well. The BBQ is a total disaster.

I think the scene, one long act that will keep you riveted to your seat for 80 minutes, is a bit extreme, the treatment of the childfree couple was not at all far from reality. Close enough to the mark; we are all easy marks because we are living such non-traditional lives, to be uncomfortable. I casually mentioned to one of the ushers at the theater that my childfree group attended the play and that “we get that kind of reaction all the time” her reaction was cool and not at all sympathetic. She probably thought I was as freakish as the stage characters thought of their childfree counterparts.

I met a woman who teaches art classes in a studio adjacent to the theatre and she said, in an unrelated conversation as we were mingling in the lobby area prior to the show, “No tolerance is actually a form of intolerance.” That applies to so many things.

The Purple Woman portrayed on stage was particularly vilified. I think the writer took it a bit to the extreme, perhaps to make a point, but I couldn’t help wondering how the childed vs. the parents in the audience were reacting to the scene. I remember, at one point, I was agreeing whole-heartedly with the dialogue on stage and a woman in front of me was shaking her head in sympathetic scorn.

Ms. Gilman did Purple Men a favor by focusing on their ability to make a conscious choice about becoming a parent. Our society focuses on women so much, possibly because we are the ones who actually get pregnant. Men have revealed that they feel pushed aside in the equation as the mere sperm donor who will just go along for the ride, as if they are not part of the decision. “Oh once your child is born….fill-in the blank reason,” to pacify the unsure male.

In the middle of the act, thank goodness for the single friend who drops by with a cheap six-pack of beer, as he provides much needed humor. His jokes about waiting on tables with parents and young children had everyone laughing heartily. Who knew Cheerios are just for tossing and not for eating? His arrival and delivery were perfectly timed.

This morning I was reading the morning paper about how whaling how international pressure has greatly impacted a small Japanese town’s traditional catch. I was surprised to learn that it was the Americans after WWII, who encouraged whales as a food source. Now we, as leaders in the world (bullies to some), and the international community have changed our minds. A spokesperson for the small whaling town of Taiji pointed out, “They just completely reject people whose thinking isn’t the same as theirs.” This reminded me of the kind of interactions that the childfree often have with parents and perfect strangers.

The Magic Theatre has a run of 25 shows for The Crowd You’re In With. I plan to go back for one of the Friday evening performances because the writer and director come out to talk with the audience, and more than anything, after seeing something like that, you want to talk about it. I am very grateful to Nicole, the promoter of the show, for a couple of reasons. First, she had the savvy to contact me, as the leader of a childfree social club, to promote the show to our members. Moreover, she arranged for members of my club to have a special ticket price at a $7.00 reduction. This marks the first time I have ever had a discount on anything for being childfree.

I will be thinking about this play for days if not weeks, and the more I think about it , the more title of the play seems perfect to me. It alludes to the kind of “group think” mentality that I suspect is often the basis for starting a family with children.

Rebecca Gilman is a Pulitzer-prize nominated play write. I hope she wins big for this one.

Update to post: Read Robert Hurwitt's review in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

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M said...

Sounds great. I really want to go but the price is deterring me. I suppose the discount was just for that one outing, right? At holiday time I am having a hard time justifying the cost to myself yet your description of it makes me really want to go!!

Anonymous said...

I think they really are motivated to sell tickets. Any small theater is. You can also do rush tickets. The sales begin on hour prior to the performance and it is on a sliding scale basis. Call the Magic Theater box office directly for details and pricing. They are open 12-5 Tues-Fri...I think!

LauraS said...

Please let us know how the Q & A session with the playwright goes. I'd loved to know what the audience thinks of the characters, as portrayed.

Dana said...

Wow I'd so love to go but I don't live near there at all. I'm impressed with the discount though!

M said...


Thanks for the info. If the rush thing really is for every show, then I will almost certainly go. Perhaps if we go on a Friday, we can meet you there if you'd like . . . I'll email you once I confirm that the rush is for any day and once we decide if and when we'll plan to go.

I'm so excited about the sliding scale tix. This play sounds awesome and besides, I'm not one of those "never go to the theater" types at all. I LOVE theater!

Thanks for the heads up about this, and the info. and review.