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The Crowd You're in With

Rebecca Gilman's new play about a couple trying to have kids needs to dig deeper.

Allison Jean White, Makela Spielman, Kevin Rolston, and
T. Edward Webster in The Crowd You're In With
(© David Allen Studio)
A simple backyard barbecue is the setting of playwright Rebecca Gilman's world premiere The Crowd You're In With, at the venerable Magic Theatre. While the show, directed by Amy Glazer, is well-acted and features some compelling scenes and characters, it doesn't dig quite deep enough into its familiar subject matter -- to have children or not to have children -- to make it a must-see.

It's Fourth of July. The burgers, turkey burgers, and chicken breasts are on the grill, and married, mid-30's couple Jasper (T. Edward Webster) and Melinda (Makela Spielman) -- seemingly plucked from the pages of a Banana Republic catalog -- are prepping their cute apartment backyard for arriving guests. Oh, and they're trying to get pregnant. While it's only been five months, a relatively short period of time, it's been made to feel longer, because the couple's best pals, Windsong (Allison Jean White), an overly sensitive hippie, and Dan (Kevin Rolston), an edgy music writer, are already pregnant with their first child.

While Jasper and Melinda believe this is how life is supposed to be -- love, marriage, and the baby carriage -- the opposite viewpoint is espoused by Karen (Lorri Holt) and Tom (Charles Shaw Robinson), Jasper and Melinda's unorthodox landlords and upstairs neighbors. Liberal activists in their 60s -- and thoroughly in love with one another --Karen and Tom decided never to have kids. Their decision to go childless is borne of a devout certainty that neither has ever wanted them. That's not to say they don't like kids, they just don't need them in their lives.

Karen and Tom inject a fascinating perspective and set of personalities to the play. If ever there was a buzzkill at a party, it's these two, who are completely unapologetic in their brutal honesty, expertly slicing through the typical small talk that happens between strangers. "The world is going to probably end in your baby's lifetime," Karen says without irony or humor to a shocked Windsong. Or take their absolute opinions on politics, such as when Karen slams Ralph Nader and anyone who voted for him (including Dan).

Adding his own perspective to the play is Dan and Windsong's oddball slacker friend, Dwight (Chris Yule), who almost randomly stumbles in, presents a brief, yet funny monologue on kids in restaurants, and then leaves.

This is Gilman's fourth premiere at the Magic - following The American in Me, Blue Surge, and The Sweetest Swing in Baseball -- and the theater is to be commended for their commitment to her work. In the end, however, one wishes that Gilman would have pushed the play's overall conversation further, instead of playing it somewhat safe.