Splash Magazines

Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 Review - An Uninspired Tale

By Jessie Bond

View the Full Article | Return to the Site

 

Ann Whitney (JoAnne) and Cora Vander Broek (Kat Durst) in Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre

 

Written by Goodman Theatre Artistic Associate Rebecca Gilman, Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 takes place in a small Wisconsin town undergoing big changes. Set in the kitchen of a local family, this two-act play features some interesting characters, but the meandering plot and lackluster dialogue make it difficult to truly engage in the story’s message.

 

Playwright Rebecca Gilman in rehearsal for Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976 directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre

 

The play derives its title from the cookbook that the town produces every year, featuring soup, stew, and casserole recipes submitted by local women. Kat Durst, a reporter for the local paper, works on assembling this cookbook with her mother figure JoAnne. When union president Kyle bursts into the kitchen to announce that a corporation has purchased the local cheese factory that employs many of the townspeople, including Kat’s husband Kim, the town’s world is shaken as its citizens are forced to reckon with the realities of mechanization and corporate greed. Kim’s promotion to floor manager in the face of layoffs causes tension between him and the rest of the town, as does Kat’s friendship with Elaine Marcus, the wife of one of the businessmen who now owns the factory.

 

Cliff Chamberlain (Kim Durst) and Ty Olwin (Kyle) in Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls

 

The show’s characters have their charm, especially the outspoken JoAnne, whose humorously stark responses and refusal to tolerate injustice are a highlight of the story. Actor Ann Whitney portrays JoAnne with an earthiness and sincerity that is a pleasure to watch. Lindsay Stock, who plays teenage daughter Kelly, captures both the passion of an idealistic high schooler and the anguish of a young person caught between adult forces she can’t control. Kyle is another engaging character; his passionate speeches in favor of the working class, portrayed with charm and candor by Ty Olwin, make it nearly impossible not to root for him to succeed.

 

Ann Whitney (JoAnne) in rehearsal for Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976 written by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre

 

It’s a shame, then, that these characters are trapped in a play that falls short of truly resonating with its audience. Several of the storylines seem to have little relevance to the show’s core theme, and it is easy to get lost in Kelly’s crush on Kyle or Kat and Elaine’s disgust towards the local homemakers’ association and forget what exactly the main conflict is supposed to be. Attempts to connect the social issues of the 1970s to contemporary economic struggles fall flat, and it is difficult to relate what is happening onstage to anything happening in the present day.

 

Cliff Chamberlain (Kim Durst), Cora Vander Broek (Kat Durst), Lindsay Stock (Kelly Durst) and Angela Reed (Elaine) in Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls

 

The show’s ultimate message feels contrived, as well; a short recitation of a piece of Kelly’s debate team argument singlehandedly convinces her father to abandon the possibility of success in the corporate world and advocate for the rights of workers at great personal risk. None of the characters seems to have changed in any meaningful way by the end of the show, and as such there is no real reward for following the characters on their journey.

 

Rehearsal for Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976 written by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre

 

In spite of a disappointing script, several of the show’s designers produced standout work. Scenic design by Kevin Depinet captures the spirit of a rural 70s kitchen in gloriously obnoxious florals and remarkable attention to detail. Costumes by Jenny Mannis are another highlight; bell bottom jeans and sleeveless collared shirts scream 1976, and Elaine’s glamorous green dress in her final scene is as delightful as said final scene is predictable and unpleasant.

 

Angela Reed (Elaine) and Cliff Chamberlain (Kim Durst) in Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre

 

Overall, Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 is a disappointment. In spite of some strong acting and design work, the script simply fails to impress, and the production suffers because of it. It just goes to show that even an established powerhouse like the Goodman produces a flop every once in a while.

 

Cliff Chamberlain (Kim Durst) and Cora Vander Broek (Kat Durst) in Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre. All photos by Liz Lauren

 

Ticket Information

Location: The Goodman Theatre170 North Dearborn, The Owen Theatre

Dates: May 21 - June 19, 2016

Tickets: Tickets ($10 - $40; subject to change) are on sale now at the Goodman website, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn)

For full schedule and additional information, visit the Goodman wesbite.

Published on Jun 08, 2016

View the Full Article | Return to the Site