In my experience, summer theater generally falls into three categories; light weight comedy, remounts of name recognition musicals and plays, or coming of age/transition stories.
Happily, Support Group for Men, now showing at the Goodman Theater is an original comedy. Somewhat ironically, it is written by a woman and directed by a woman. Playwright Ellen Fairey’s comedy drops contemporary topics (#MeToo, gender identification, racism, and police violence) while stirring in the transitions, worries, and lives of five Chicago men.
Kimberly Senior’s very skillful direction of the seven talented ensemble keeps the pace and humor seamless. Set in Wrigleyville, in a very liveable, glorious walk up apartment designed by Jack Magaw (even Channel 2’s Vince Gerasole said he’d love to live there!), the play begins in character Rog’s words “a coupla guy’s drinking pink wine on a Thursday night”. Four men are actually gathered there for “open sharing”-who they are, what they’re afraid of-and passing a feathered and beaded talking stick which in reality saw earlier life as a baseball bat.
This “band of brothers” is a delightful mesh of Chicagoans meeting in the apartment of 51 year old Brian (the very sincere Ryan Kitley). Brian is the oldest employee at the Apple Store and is the host and founder of the weekly Guys Night. Del is Brian’s high school pal (Anthony Irons) and is an outlier; he’s married and lives in Oak Park.
Iron superbly delivers some of the comedy’s funniest lines. Roger is the typical Chicagoan (Keith Kupferer) and is quite verbal in dispensing advice and statements about “being confused about what I’m confused about”. Kupferer also gets to deliver the gut puncher line about the “stranger in the mirror” as well as the audience groaning “at least we’re not women; when they get old, it’s over”. The most touching line is also his; he talks about the recognition of death that never leaves the pit of your stomach.
That moment is directed to Kev (Tommy Rivera-Vega), the young fact orator and amazing dancer. An unexpected visitor played brilliantly by Jeff Kurysz changes the dynamics fo everything these four men are searching for.
The ensemble is rounded out by Sadieh Rifai, the only female in the cast, as Officer Caruso (and guess who she ends up being the love interest of) and Eric Slater as the awkward Officer Novak.and they’re within a breath of Chicago cop stereotypes. The chemistry between all seven is easy, comfortable, and honest. All are returnees to the Goodman stage.
Fairey said she was influenced by Studs Terkel, Norman Lear, and Carl Reiner and was inspired by specific male friends in their 40’s and 50’s. She certainly excels in showcasing the everyday lives of ordinary people while subtly addressing the themes of loneliness, disconnection, and the dizzying changes of what it means to be a man in America today. Chicago references are rampant, but after all Fairey lived here for 23 years; it makes the comedy all the more fun and recognizable for us natives.
Support Group for Men is fresh and enjoyable—a rare intersection of entertainment and compassion written well.
If you go
Support Group for Men
170 N. Dearborn, Chicago
THROUGH JULY 29
90 minutes with NO intermission
• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director. She is a retired District 47 special educator, a retired Raue Center for the Arts Board member, and currently serves on the boards of RCLPC and It’s Showtime. She is a 2018 Woman of Distinction award winner.