Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976
The Rebecca Gilman play brings an eye-opening piece of harsh reality to the Goodman Theatre
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OH, for the good old days when you went to work, followed your boss’ directions and enjoyed the fact that your job security basically depended on how well you performed your duties. And you didn’t have to concern yourself with the fallout of mergers, acquisitions and corporate takeovers. That was then; this is now.
In Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 at the Goodman Theatre through June 19, playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rebecca Gilman paints a picture of life-altering change that in many ways mirrors current-day society. The serenity and life-as-usual moments in small-town Reynolds, Wisconsin, come to a screeching halt when a Chicago corporation buys a family-owned business that provides many of the jobs in the community. With the arrival of big business to Reynolds has come a blanket of uncertainty and paralyzing fear about the future.
“Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976” is actually a very contemporary play even though it is set, as the title tells us, in 1976. What Rebecca Gilman is doing, as she so often does, is writing about today. The basic premise is that a giant food conglomerate from Chicago moves in and buys this small, family business, throwing the community into a moral dilemma of which is focused on one particular family, the Durst family,” says Robert Falls, the play’s director and Goodman’s artistic director. “She’s writing about the circumstances of how we got where we are. But she’s doing it in her typically very wry, witty, warm way that in this piece focuses on a family. I think it’s a play that does inspire conversation with audience members. You actually can’t help leave the theater and want to talk about it, which I think is the mark of a wonderful play.”
In the play’s lead is Cliff Chamberlain as Kim Durst, who has spent 17 years at the company, and almost instantly he has to face a series of dilemmas with his family, friends and especially with the union members he works with side by side at the factory. In the midst of the turmoil, Kim is presented with a major opportunity––and a moral dilemma. Should he accept a prosperous promotion under the new management and risk becoming a pariah? What does he do––please himself and boost his financial security or become “a traitor” of sorts in the eyes of the union workers and the community? “All those aspirations that have been churning inside [Kim] for a long time are suddenly spilled out into the open. However, the financial rewards come at a cost to his soul and that is his struggle through the play--what is the trade-off?” Chamberlain says about the difficulties that his character faces. “It’s a play about unions––union workers, the union of a marriage, the union of family, the union of friendship and the union between me, myself and I. How do I work with other people? How do I work with myself to make something better than myself and something better for the world?”
For Gilman, an artistic associate at Goodman, Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 is another of her thought-provoking and contemporary plays that have been embraced by theater critics and audiences alike. Her most recent Goodman production, Luna Gale, earned her the prestigious Jeff Award, and followed other Goodman productions, including A True History of the Johnstown Flood, Dollhouse, Boy Gets Girl, Spinning Into Butter and Blue Surge. A Harper Lee Award-winner, Gilman, the first American playwright to win the London Evening Standard Theatre Award for most promising playwright, also is an associate professor of playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University as part of its MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage program.
As expected, Gilman's enormous talents are skillfully displayed in Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 as she presents a contemporary story that millions of Americans not only can identify with but are living examples who realistically fill the roles in her examination of workers’ rights and the effects of big business on small-town lives.
Confusion, frustration, uncertainty and loyalty are at the forefront in the Goodman Theatre's production of Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976.
Cliff Chamberlain (in the role of Kim Durst) has to make some tough decisions that could affect his family and (below) union workers at the factory.
Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976 appears through June 19 in the Owen Theatre. Tickets ($10 to $40 and subject to change) are on sale now at GoodmanTheatre.org/Soups, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).