So often theatre wants to be dazzling. It wants to stun with emotional pyrotechnics, jaw-dropping music, dance numbers and big paroxysms of splashiness. Theatre doesn’t often give itself enough time to just...silently breathe onstage. When a show like You Got Older comes along, it can feel refreshingly silent. The comic drama of a young woman going back home to be with her father lives in moments just outside the hope and tragedy of everyday human existence. Characters rest on the edge of drama reflecting on it all. The place between the major events in life doesn’t often get its time onstage. It’s a place that the small, intimate stage of the Underground Collaborative is perfect for. It’s a place that Outskirts Theatre Co. brings to the stage with charming emotional energy.
Emmaline Friederichs is heartbreakingly human in the role of Mae--a woman between jobs who has returned to her hometown for a little bit of downtime between major chapters in her life. Greg Ryan delivers one of his best performances in recent memory as Mae’s father. Ryan resides quite comfortably in the still serenity of a widower playing host to his adult daughter. Moments between Friederichs and Ryan electrify in silent wistful moments occasionally punctuated by the slow movements of a plot that is steadily pacing forward.
Maddi Conway makes a haunting directorial debut with You Got Older. Playwright Clare Barron’s script plays with delicate moments that would be all too easy to overwhelm with overpowering staging. Fantasy scenes between Mae and a rugged imaginary cowboy (played with muted nuance by Rob Schreiner) could have easily bleed into a cheesy soft core porn tackiness. Conway has fostered an environment for Schreiner and Friederichs that lends Mae’s fantasy life a captivating depth.
Eddie Curran adds to the comic stillness of the show as Mac--an old schoolmate who Mae runs into at a bar. There’s kind of a soulful cluelessness about the character that might have read as one-dimensional stupidity. In Curran’s hands, Mac is sympathetic. He’s restless and distracted as someone who never quite left home. Curran shines flashes of charm around the periphery of a character who is frustratingly close to being someone Mae could actually connect-up with on a meaningful level. Some of the most brilliantly awkward comedy rest in the silence between moments between Curran and Friederichs.
Conway shows considerable talent for the challenges of a bigger ensemble scene deep into the play as Mae and her siblings visit their father in the hospital. Amidst conventions of staged drama it can be easy to forget how much work we’re doing as an audience bridging that conceptual gap the makes a group of actors feel like a family onstage. Familiarity, particularly among siblings is very, very difficult to fake. I don’t know what Conway did to bring the cast together, but whatever she did...worked.
Part of the work is done by really a naturalistic script by Barron. The dialogue sounds like a group of people who have known each other their entire lives. Part of that naturalism comes from a really talented cast that has been allowed to develop a distinct personality for each of the characters without exaggeration. There's a very organic dynamic in the ensemble. Ava Bush is emotionally resonant as Mae’s sister Jenny who is happy to be there with everyone but really has somewhere else to be. Teddi Jules Gardener plays her brother Matthew as someone who wants to be okay visiting his ill father. Francesca Steitz has her own momentum the nutritionally-conscious sibling who brought food to the hospital. Everyone has very distinctive wit in one of the most memorable scenes in a very satisfying show.
Outskirts Theatre Co.’s production of You Got Older runs through Jan. 20 at The Underground Collaborative on 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit the show’s Facebook events page.