‘This’ at Windy City Playhouse reveals pain/joy of complicated relationships

Of Notoriety

Most of us have been to a party or gathering and the moment hits when the group is asked to participate in a “parlor game” to keep the event entertaining and “interesting.”

Not everyone enjoys the same “games of life.” This assessment forms the basis for the Off-Broadway work titled “This” now playing at Windy City Playhouse, ideally billed as “Chicago’s most sophisticated new theater.”

The two-hour, one intermission tale focuses on four cultured and educated witting friends, who would happily self-describe themselves as “artistically inclined thirtysomething New Yorkers,” all sharing longtime friendship connections.

Writer, director and playwright Carl Menninger, who hails as a former Deerfield native who now calls Washington D.C. home, gives audiences comfortably planted in this unique and intimate theater space, a balance of comedy, drama and intrigue. But most of all, this story gives all something to think about for tackling the questions of relationships, companionship, infidelity, parenting and loneliness. Written by Melissa James Gibson, it continues with performances until Aug. 28 at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park in Chicago.

The cast of “This” includes Brian Grey as dashing and mysterious Jean-Pierre, a new French friend of Marrell, played by Tania Richard, who is a new mother attempting to balance her duties as a wife with cabaret singing side passion. Steve O’Connell is her husband Tom, who has special feelings for their mutual friend, the widowed Jane, played with worthy angst by Amy Rubenstein. While the ladies lend emphasis and emotion to their characters, it is the men about the stage, especially O’Connell and the outstanding talent of Joe Zarrow as hapless and loveable friend-to-all Alan who command the spotlight.

A solid design team includes Katie-Bell Kenney with a very real set, Kristy Leigh Hall’s comfortable costumes and an ideal atmosphere captured by Jared Gooding’s lights, Jeffrey Levin’s sound and Jamie Karas’s interesting array of props.

By the final moments, I found there were still many questions I wanted answered about the characters and the intertwined storylines. But much like real life relationships, many unraveled relationship questions never have an absolute answer. And it’s for this reason, the dialogue connected with this stage yarn continues to spin with audiences on the way home, long after the final bows. And “This” is good.

Tickets are $25 to $55. FYI: 773-891-8985; or visit www.windycityplayhouse.com

Philip Potempa is a 25-year veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached at philip@ofnotoriety.com.