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Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)

Fun immersive experience creates unforgettable night of theater

Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)

Review by Lauren Whalen

Charity begins at home, and so does conflict. Even in the best of circumstances, every party is a potential minefield for secrets, emotions, and possible substance-induced fights. Windy City Playhouse's Southern Gothic , by Leslie Liautaud, is both a throwback to an earlier era and a very contemporary look at marriage, friendship and small-town politics. A birthday party in real time, this fun immersive experience is thoughtfully executed with stellar acting, directing and production values.

Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Set designer Scott Davis, with assistance from Lauren Nigri and construction courtesy of Theatre at the Center, has created a full-scale house in the Windy City Playhouse theater space. With time-appropriate appliances, colors and furniture, it's 1961 all over again. Specifically, the audience are now guests in the home of Ellie Coutier (Sarah Grant) and her husband Beau (Michael McKeogh). As Ellie and Beau bustle around, cleaning up and preparing appetizers (and perhaps sneaking a quick cigarette), we learn that they are preparing for the 40th birthday party of their friend and Ellie's sister-in-law, the flamboyant Suzanne Wellington (Brianna Borger). Also in attendance are Suzanne's husband and Ellie's brother Jackson (Paul Fagen), a successful lawyer, as well as local politician and golden boy Charles Lyon (Brian McCaskill) and his dainty wife Lauren (Christine Mayland Perkins), who has a penchant for drinking her feelings. While the three couples seem happy and jovial, dark secrets run under their genteel surface. And when Tucker (Peter Ash) brings his new girlfriend Cassie (Ariel Richardson) to the shindig, things take a turn for the dramatic.

Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)

Director David H. Bell stages the production with care, working within set designer Davis' parameters. Audience members are welcome to sit around the perimeter of each room, striking the perfect balance between witnessing the action and being a part of it. To clarify: Southern Gothic is an immersive experience, an interactive one. Audiences can watch while moving from room to room - and there's a lot going on in each, meaning you can see the show more than once and have a different experience. You are welcome to eat snacks artfully laid out on the dining room table, and libations are passed around three different times during the 90-minute run time. That said, audiences don't have to worry about being pulled into a scene. It's the best possible kind of front-row seating for everyone involved.

Productions like Southern Gothic require a special kind of actor, who can execute a thorough character arc with audience members sharing their space, up close and personal. While I wish the cast was a bit more diverse, the actors are well chosen and adept at creating a complete and realistic story while moving through a large and potentially contentious space. Grant is a perfectly nervous and vulnerable housewife, and Perkins gives a thorough and nuanced performance. Richardson shines as the intelligent and observant outsider with big dreams, and Fagen does well as a principled man in way over his head. Southern Gothic is a fascinating glimpse inside the troubled lives of wealthy Southerners in a country on the verge of major change, and its immersive environment results in an unforgettable night at the theater.

Southern Gothic continues an open run at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm & 6pm. Tickets are $80-$100, and are available by phone (773-891-8985) or online via their website (check for availability of ). More info at (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. NOTE: Due to the intimate nature of the show, tickets for each performance are limited)

Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)

Photos by Michael Brosilow

behind the scenes

Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)
Review: Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse)

David H. Bell (director), Carl Menninger (dramaturg, co-creator), Amy Rubenstein (co-creator), Scott Davis (scenic design), Elsa Hiltner (costume design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Becca Jeffords (lighting design), Eleanor Kahn (props design), Logan Boyd Jones (production stage manager), Krystal Dawson (assistant stage manager), Lauren Nigri (associate scenic design), (fight choreographer), Sammi Grant (dialect coach), Marc Chevalier (master electrician), Theatre at the Center (scenic construction), Eric Reading (technical director), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Tags: 18-0226, Amy Rubenstein, Ariel Richardson, Becca Jeffords, Brian McCaskill, Brianna Borger, Carl Menninger, Chicago Theater, Christine Mayland Perkins, David H. Bell, Eleanor Kahn, Elsa Hiltner, Eric Reading, Jeffrey Levin, Krystal Dawson, Lauren Nigri, Lauren Whalen, Leslie Liautaud, Logan Boyd Jones, Marc Chevalier, Max Fabian, Michael Brosilow, Michael McKeough, Paul Fagen, Peter Ash, post, Sammi Grant, Sarah Grant, Scott Davis, Theatre at the Center, Windy City Playhouse

Category: 2018 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, Open Run, Windy City Playhouse

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