Review: Ask Aunt Susan (Goodman Theatre)

| June 16, 2014
Alex Stage stars as Aunt Susan in Goodman Theatre's "Ask Aunt Susan" by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)        
      
Ask Aunt Susan

Written by Seth Bockley  
Directed by Henry Wishcamper
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
thru June 22  |  tickets: $10-$40   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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‘Aunt Susan’ is relatively pointless

     

Alex Stage, Robyn Scott, Meghan Reardon, Marc Grapey and Jennie Moreau in Goodman Theatre's "Ask Aunt Susan" by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

    
Goodman Theatre presents
    
Ask Aunt Susan

Review by Keith Glab

Inspired by Nathaniel West’s 1933 novella “Miss Lonelyhearts”, Ask Aunt Susan attempts to satirize the effects of the internet on interpersonal relationships. Unfortunately, most of the satire falls flat due to uninspiring characters and an overly-complex plot that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Alex Stage and Meghan Reardon in Goodman Theatre's "Ask Aunt Susan" by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)An unnamed, amoral internet writer/coder unwittingly develops into an online advice columnist named Aunt Susan (Alex Stage). He connects better with these anonymous strangers online than with his hippie actor girlfriend, Betty (Meghan Reardon), and breaks up with her upon this realization. Aunt Susan’s friend/colleague Steve (Marc Grapey) helps turn the advice column into an internet phenomenon somehow netting “deca-millions” in profit despite a nebulous business model.

Suddenly, the central focus of the piece turns to a waitress in Denver (Robyn Scott) blackmailing Aunt Susan for $30,000 because she has discovered his true identity. Our Aunt Susan turns into a paranoid mess despite the fact that A) if the company were that profitable, paying off $30,000 wouldn’t even merit two blinks and B) it’s unclear why outing this man as Aunt Susan would destroy him or the company.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it makes even less sense than the buildup does, resolves nothing, and leaves little impact because we care so little for these flat, deplorable characters. We don’t particularly care when Aunt Susan breaks up with Betty, because Stage plays it with less emotion than if he had canceled his Comcast service, and even though Betty says she loves him, we don’t really see that from Reardon’s performance. Stage’s frequent monologues to the audience break up what little emotional chemistry exists and serve as nothing more than exposition.

Meghan Reardon in Ask Aunt Susan, Goodman TheatreGoodman Theatre's "Ask Aunt Susan" by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Alex Stage and Marc Grapey in Ask Aunt Susan, Goodman Theatre 02Goodman Theatre's "Ask Aunt Susan" by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)Alex Stage and Meghan Reardon in Goodman Theatre's "Ask Aunt Susan" by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Jennie Moreau and Alex Stage in Goodman Theatre's "Ask Aunt Susan" by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

Ironically, Grapey’s cash-and-sex-obsessed Steve – the most despicable character of the bunch – comes off as the most enjoyable performance, as his idiosyncratic panache elicits the few laughs of the evening. Jennie Moreau also turns in a fine performance as Lydia, Steve’s powerful wife and business partner. Typical of the Goodman, Kevin Depinet’s set design pleases aesthetically, although the eight television monitors are grossly underutilized, doing little more than providing titles for each scene in this episodic piece.

The stakes are low or unclear throughout Seth Bockley’s script, and Henry Wishcamper does nothing to raise them in his direction. The characters onstage don’t seem too concerned as to what is happening to them, so why should the audience care, either? Ultimately, Ask Aunt Susan answers one question: what do you get when you present a plot-driven play with a muddled and pointless plot?  The answer won’t surprise you.

  
Rating: ★★
  
   

Ask Aunt Susan continues through June 23rd at Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $10-$40, and are available by phone (312-443-3800) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GoodmanTheatre.org(Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes, no intermission)

Alex Stage and Robyn Scott in Goodman Theatre's "Ask Aunt Susan" by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

Photos by Liz Lauren


     

artists

cast

Marc Grapey (Steve), Jennie Moreau (Lydia), Meghan Reardon (Betty), Robyn Scott (Jill, Cleo, Waitress), Alex Stage (Aunt Susan)

behind the scenes

Henry Wishcamper (director), Kevin Depinet (set design), Alison Siple (costumes), Keith Parham (lighting), Richard Woodbury (sound design), Kimberly Osgood (production stage manager), Tanya Palmer (dramaturg), Adam Belcuore (casting), Mike Tutaj (projection design), Liz Lauren (photos)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Goodman Theatre, Keith Glab, Owen Theatre (Goodman), Video, YouTube

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