Ever find yourself being consumed in sexual thoughts while spending time with your ailing parents? This, in a nutshell, is the premise of Claire Baron’s You Got Older, a darkly comic play about a young woman returning home to care for her father amidst a slew of personal and professional upheavals. Though the script explores powerful themes like intimacy, connectedness, and how we deal with and process grief, the play’s disjointed nature makes it difficult to empathize with our main character, resulting in a production with moving moments but no long-lasting effect.
Part of this disconnect is purposeful. From the play’s opening moments, as we witness Mae’s (Caroline Neff) forced conversation with her father (Francis Guinan), it’s clear that this relationship is strained--not, it seems, by any ill will but rather by that divide created by the feeling that your parents know you without truly knowing you; the knowledge that your connection is primarily biological and not emotional. When we transition shortly after to a dream sequence in which Mae is rescued by a handsome cowboy, we see that, underneath Mae’s almost-haunted awkwardness and emotional distance, lives another self, one crying out for affection.
Yet, other than two wonderful instances where music intervenes to uncover that desire for connectedness, the play gives us little chance to see more concrete examples of how Mae is feeling. We travel with her in a state of almost numb affectation that renders the play’s stakes low, even when she is faced with the reality that her father will not be cured.
This subdued tone and pace is not at all caused, however, by the actors themselves. Given the material they have, there are several standout performances that manage to induce some of the empathy which the play lacks. Audrey Francis embeds her performance as the eldest sister Hannah with the perfect motherly, fortified sense of responsibility, and Francis Guinan excels at showcasing both that sweetly sincere parental adoration and the intensely rooted fearfulness of someone facing a terminal illness. Caroline Neff is, as always, hauntingly raw and real as Mae.
Overall, the play’s most affecting moments stem from the two heart-wrenching instances where music says what the characters cannot, but it also loses some of its emotional resonance by leaving so many things unspoken. It’s ultimately too introspective and apathetic to have the lasting effect it might have with an extra dose of empathy.
Review by Emily Schmidt
You Got Older continues at Steppenwolf Theatre through March 11. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreinChicago's Review Round-Up.