You've most likely heard of Windy City Playhouse's long-running Southern Gothic by now. But if you haven't yet RSVP'd to the birthday party at the home of Ellie (Sarah Grant) and Beau (Michael McKeough), you're missing out on the unique, immersive experience that makes this world premiere such a must-see.
Upon entering the theatre, audience members are tasked with acting as “flies on the wall,” witnessing a dinner party unfold in real-time with full permission to explore every room in the house (including consuming any of the food and drink served in the play). At the start, I found myself preoccupied with staying out of the way - but as the play progressed, I grew fascinated by the mundane. The way Ellie prepares a bar cart, for example, or Beau cleans a toilet, inform the conversations before and after these moments. The phenomenal acting and engaging plot add to the personal sensory experience.
When the dinner party officially begins, we are introduced to guests Suzanne and Jackson Wellington (Amy Malcom and Paul Fagen), Lauren and Charles Lyon (Erin Barlow and Victor Holstein), and Cassie Smith and Tucker Alsworth (Arielle Leverett and Ben Page). As each new couple enters, layers of the story unfold. We discover that Beau struggles with alcoholism which nearly destroyed his friendships and marriage. We also learn that Ellie is keeping a secret from her husband, and Lauren and Charles' marriage is less than ideal. The text (by playwright Leslie Liautaud and co-creators Carl Menninger and Amy Rubenstein) is crafted so perfectly that no matter which conversation you're listening in on, you're privy to all the pertinent plot information. I encourage you to split your party up throughout the performance, which will give you the option to reconvene and share the intimate acts you witnessed to add to the overall through line.
Notable moments in the play include a viscerally-acted nervous breakdown by Erin Barlow as well as a subtle and perfectly understated performance by Arielle Leverett. She plays an unexpected visitor, a black woman in the home of white hosts and their white company in 1961 Georgia, and ultimately acts as the unsung hero of the play.
Southern Gothic is a piece of the current Chicago theatre puzzle that shouldn't be missed. The cast and design team's commitment to excellence and immersive storytelling is absolutely worth the ticket price. (Cory Davis)
Highly Recommended ★★★★
Southern Gothic continues its open run at Windy City Playhouse South. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.