Directed by Interrobang Theatre Project co-artistic director Georgette Verdin, Emily Schwend’s “Utility” uses banality as a jumping-off point to discover emotional poignancy before dropping right back into the everyday. These breaths of poetry are respites in the otherwise ordinary (and therefore unique) days of a working mom, Amber (Brynne Barnard).
Whether she’s sitting quietly wrapping gifts with her mother (a brash, ever-nudging Barbara Figgins) or finding a spare second to smoke, these instances are immediately recognizable as that connective tissue between ourselves and our surroundings, calling us back into the present. These moments remind us that life, without the bustle of trying to make ends meet, is mostly silence.
Unfortunately, these moments and the comfortable way relationships blossom within them play second fiddle to character subtext and the sad ways drama inhabits our most boring days. This isn’t a technical criticism: Verdin and the cast perform the show wonderfully, maintaining drive through the whole performance while imagining these wildly consistent and specific characters. But my taste doesn’t agree with Schwend’s script, full of characters who aren’t repressed enough to carry this subtext to an explosive or implosive place, nor brave enough to take total control of what they’re saying and the kind of people they are (except for Kevin D’Ambrosio’s monologue near the end).
This show is naturalism incarnate and the quiet beauty is unsustainable without the boredom. While the acting work is well-performed, there’s only so much to do with the quotidian when you’re restricted by the schedules and the bills, by the fridge and the kitchen table. It’s an hour and forty minutes of schedule mishaps and the power outages, punctuated by wells of contemplation and small dramas. That’s a little too long for not too much happening.
We’re trapped in the cycle and we’re never granted the chance to see these people transcend their material state (an issue I had with another recent production). At its finest, the show creates an encounter with empathy during quiet moments. At its worst, “Utility” is a slog through the shit you hardly want to do yourself. (Jay Van Ort)
Interrobang Theatre Project at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 North Ridge, (312)219-4140, interrobangtheatre.org, $16-$32. Through May 4.