Theatre Review: Glue Takes an Honest Look at Friendship
On a Saturday in late May 2011, a group of artists loitered outside of a theater in Chicago, taking a break from teching a play festival. Amidst snacks and conversation envying the people who could enjoy the sunny, warm day, I looked at the discarded banana peel in my hand and wondered if people could actually slip on it. None of the others on the stoop thought this a feasible or interesting idea, except for one person, a designer who I had met earlier in the week. We spent the next several minutes strategizing about the best peel placement on concrete, the speed at which one must walk, and the proper shoe placement on peel for maximum effect. We set our trap and watched the passer-byes, laughing at their curious looks at the precarious peel (no one did slip), and I knew then, in the middle of this ridiculous game, that we were doomed to friendship.
I think that those who see Available Light Theatre’s original masterpiece Glue, feel compelled to dwell on stories of dear friends that crossed their life’s path. Hopefully, they share them. It just seems like the thing to do, a warming, camaraderie-building activity.
Glue focuses on the lives of four friends, friends brought together by another friend, Mark, who suddenly died a month prior due to a drunk driver. Each of the four: Anna, Rebecca, Brian, and Julie, developed friendships with each other because of their best friend relationship with Mark. In the time after his death, they nervously yet eagerly recount memories to the audience regarding the growth and span of their relationships with Mark, as well as each other, the sort of glue that binds them together. The company collaborated to create this imaginative and honest piece. Artistic director Matt Slaybaugh wrote about the creation process a few weeks ago. I highly recommend the read, but urge all to see Glue.
This ensemble of Acacia Leigh Duncan, Elena M. Perantoni, Jordan Fehr, and Michelle G. Schroeder creates tender, honest, vulnerable, stunningly moving moments that invoke a gamut of emotions from the audience. One scene leaves the audience chortling, another causes slight knowing head nods, and another nearly moves them to tears. The distinction, of course, stems from the fact that each of these four composite friend characters contains a bit of themselves as well as each other. Their words, stories, and actions actually happened to the actors or another close friend at one time. As an audience member, one feels involved in the action and closer to all in the room because of the reality, driving emotion, and seamless ride. In fact, I cannot imagine this show with any of those scenes removed or with other performers in the roles. Just beautiful.
Director Matt Slaybaugh superbly ties all the loose end stories into one cohesive arch with a hint of symbolism. The playful blocking illustrating friendship’s silliness yet seriousness make for a varied and enticing evening. Dave Wallingford’s sound design gives an almost cinematic feel, and Carrie Cox’s skilled and subtle lighting transitions unnoticeably to carry the story along. Michelle Whited nicely costumes these characters comfortably, as real people, as though the actors walked on stage in their own clothes. From beginning to end, this work feels so honest and real.
I wrote earlier that I was “doomed to friendship.” Brian (Fehr) says this line in the show, and it really sticks out to me. On a surface level, friendship seems great. No one, well few (Scrooge), would argue otherwise. Slightly deeper though, friendship requires time, effort, love—which is so hard, sacrifices, vulnerability, openness, and honesty. These items do not come easily or without hesitation, which the four characters discuss in-depth.
To be a good friend is quite difficult; the risk remains great, especially when we may lose them. Jordan Fehr, and the ensemble, sing a poetic and sad song “When Death Comes,” by local musician Phil Cogley. In this powerfully performed song Brian struggles at coping, and we feel the world crumble. Our hearts break. Friendship is not easy, and when we discover we are doomed to become friends with another person, it can be a huge undertaking with massive responsibilities. The rewards though—memories, stories, laughter, love, and compassion—often do outweigh the risks.
Please see Glue. Then call your friend, the one you have not talked to in a while. You miss them. They miss you too. If you feel so inclined, join me in publicly sharing a story of a new friendship and let us celebrate the finest relationships we know.
Glue runs until November 23, at MadLab, 227 N. Third Street. Thurs.-Sat. at 8 pm; Sun. at 2 pm. Talk backs occur after every Thursday and Friday performance. $20 or pay what you want. More information can be found online at avltheatre.com.