Is a person’s success determined by innate biological forces or environmental variables? This question, the crux of the classic nature vs nurture dispute, serves as the driving force in Rebecca Gilman’s Twilight Bowl. Though perhaps not her most groundbreaking work, Gilman’s intensive character study of college-age women struggling against their circumstances is a nuanced, well-written play with social significance beyond its small-town setting.
In the fictitious but all too familiar town of Reynolds, Wisconsin, Gilman’s latest Goodman production opens at a local bowling alley, the Twilight Bowl, in the midst of a farewell gathering for 22-year-old Jaycee (Heather Chrisler). The atmosphere is anything but celebratory, however, as it’s quickly revealed that Jaycee is not jettisoning off on vacation or leaving Reynolds to start a new career--she’s headed to prison for prescription fraud (a charge she blames on her father, who sought her help in obtaining illegal drugs).
Over the next 90 minutes, we follow the trajectories of Jaycee and her friends: Jaycee’s cousin Sam (Becca Savoy) is headed to a Big 10 school on a bowling scholarship; her friend Clarice (Hayley Burgess) is working two jobs, including serving at the Twilight Bowl, to make ends meet; and Sharlene (Anne E. Thompson), a devout Christian and the outlier in the group, is contentedly moving up in her work at a nursing home.
These four women represent the challenges facing those in rural America--issues rooted in economic and social distress magnified more by crippling challenges like opioid addiction. Yet these women are more than just a product of their circumstances. By tracking their divergent paths, Gilman illuminates just how interwoven nature and nurture are; she highlights both how people can choose to change and how some people’s choices are pre-determined.
It’s within this delicate balance between two opposing forces that Twilight Bowl is most compelling, particularly because of the solid direction by Erica Weiss and the subtle, effective performances by its fully female cast. There are moments too, though, where the script overreaches a bit, not quite trusting its audience to appreciate the play without dramatic action.
While the play never physically shifts its view from Reynolds and the Twilight Bowl (in a masterfully crafted set Regina Garcia), the questions it raises can be applied to so many timely issues as we begin to contemplate systemic problems and their effects. Choice, after all, is a privilege. And Twilight Bowl does a “gorsh” (as Sharlene often says) darn good job of reminding us of this.
Review by Emily Schmidt
Twilight Bowl continues at Goodman Theatre through March 10. Info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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