Twilight Bowl previews began February 8 at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, from playwright Rebecca Gilman and director Erica Weiss. The powerful story follows six young women at a bowling alley in small-town Wisconsin as they contemplate their past choices and future paths.
“The first time I read this play I was, first of all, blown away just by the premise. That this was going to be six young women, between the ages of 19 and 23, in one place, just commanding the attention of the audience for 90 minutes,” Weiss said. “I’ve never actually read anything like that, especially on something as broad of a stage as the Goodman. So immediately my heart was drawn to this play because of my passion of bringing female voices to the stage and for lifting them up whenever possible.”
And there are a variety of female voices in Twilight Bowl - from churchgoer Sharlene (Anne E. Thompson) to troubled addict Jaycee (Heather Chrissler). Their friends fall somewhere in between, played with subtle poignance and humor by Hayley Burgess, Angela Morris, Becca Savoy and Mary Taylor.
As a recent college graduate from the Midwest, I saw myself onstage, along with girls who went to my high school; young women who sat next to me in liberal arts lecture halls and worked with me at the drugstore. Women who complain about their jobs, reference their favorite TV shows and discuss their hopes and fears the way you only can with your friends - even as those friendships change. Twilight Bowl is especially memorable for these characters, in all their realism, humor and grit.
Nine of Gilman’s plays have been produced at the Goodman, but Twilight Bowl is only the second directed by a woman. “I’ve been writing plays for 36 years, but this will be the first time I have worked exclusively with women,” Gilman wrote in a January Chicago Tribune editorial about gender parity in theater. “The cast is comprised entirely of women. The director is a woman. The scenic, lighting and costume designers are women. This is no accident. It is by design.”
She questioned why men still dominate top theater jobs, calling attention to the fact that only 29 percent of all plays produced are written by women.
“If women’s stories aren’t given equal weight in popular culture, then women’s stories in, say, a Senate confirmation hearing, are too easily dismissed as dubious, minor, inconsequential, confused,” she wrote.
Gilman remains the most-produced playwright in Goodman Theatre history. Weiss also works on the upcoming Chicago-set CBS series The Red Line, starring Noah Wyle from producers Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlanti. Though theatre jobs remain predominantly male, the success of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls and Straight White Men writer Young Jean Lee becoming the first Asian-American woman to have her work featured on Broadway feel like steps in the right direction.
Twilight Bowl puts women’s stories at the forefront, at a particularly formative time in life. “Rebecca delivers an examination of dwindling economic opportunities, the effects of social class and how much luck - rather than perseverance or hard work - shapes our lives,” Goodman artistic director Robert Falls wrote of the play. It touches on sensitive topics the same way we talk about them in our daily lives - not with heightened language or forced commentary, but simply with strong dialogue.
In addition to seamlessly tackling these issues, Weiss says Twilight Bowl is “ultimately a coming-of-age story...And in this case it’s all about, what is my path? Is this all there is for me? Is there more? And if so, what do I have to do or sacrifice or become to get there?”
Twilight Bowl officially opens February 19 and runs through March 10.
© Georgiana E. Presecky (2/9/19) FF2 Media