Review: Support Group for Men (Goodman Theatre)

| July 7, 2018

Ryan Kitley (Brian), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Kevin), Keith Kupferer (Roger) and Anthony Irons (Delano)            


Support Group for Men 

Written by Ellen Fairey
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
thru July 29  |  tix: $25-$80  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Pass the talking stick, bro


Tommy Rivera-Vega (Kevin), Ryan Kitley (Brian), Keith Kupferer (Roger) and Anthony Irons (Delano)

Goodman Theatre presents
Support Group for Men

Review by Johanna Dalton

Support Group for Men drops the audience into a moment that might have just happened, as if you had been there all the time. The four members of the support group are convening, and the laugh lines are flying. I sit up in my seat not to miss anything. The rapid-fire banter immediately reveals just enough about each character to entice you into knowing more. And what becomes known is an exploration—at times gentle, at times blunt—of the confusing lines of demarcation in today’s shape-shifting world of whose role is which. Taking place in the summer of 2017, the fears and foibles of the characters reflect back on what it’s like on the other side of feminism and the #MeToo movement, which has been, largely and tragically relegated to a rarely-visited weigh station of the societal conversation.

Ryan Kitley (Brian), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Kevin), Keith Kupferer (Roger) and Anthony Irons (Delano)In a return by playwright Ellen Fairey to her adopted-home Chi-town roots, the world-premiere play is set in Chicago, in a remarkably lifelike apartment (designed by the always-reliable Jack Magaw), adjacent to the “L” at the border between Wrighleyville and Boystown, with a view to the off-stage alley below. Ryan Kitley plays Brian, the organizer of the group, who hosts the meeting at his place. He adapts Native American traditions, borrowed from his girlfriend for whom he has mixed feelings—he’s happy being with her while afraid of losing her. By decorating a baseball bat, he creates a “Talking Stick—a sacred communication tool among indigenous people—that becomes a somewhat startling symbol of the power of one’s Word within the group. Only the person who holds the stick can speak.

Keith Kupferer (Roger) is the older, blue-collar member of the group, an easily recognizable stereotype, who is at sea amid unwelcome life changes and lack of companionship. In the hands of Fairey’s highly engaging script and Kupferer’s nuanced performance, however, we get to see the vulnerable side of Roger as he takes a chance to discover happiness from a surprising source.

Keith Kupferer (Roger) and Tommy Rivera-Vega (Kevin) star in Support Group for Men, Goodman Theatre Keith Kupferer stars as Roger in Support Group for Men, Goodman TheatreAnthony Irons (Delano) and Ryan Kitley (Brian) star in Support Group for Men, Goodman Theatre

The darting, fast-talking Kevin, played by Tommy Rivera-Vega, is the most relaxed and playful of the four who keeps the group moving. Rivera-Vega portrays Kevin’s go-with-the-flow attitude with remarkable energy and flair as he seems to be able to adjust fluidly to the curve balls life throws.

Delano or Dell (Anthony Irons) who delivers some of the most piercing barbs, chafes at the labels he sees ascribed to him, commenting, “I’m tired of being the ‘black friend.’” He is married, presumably happily; he’s the type who follows the rules yet still feels at the mercy of forces beyond his control. An extra hurdle experienced by black males in America.

Keith Kupferer (Roger) and Jeff Kurysz (Alex) star in Support Group for Men, Goodman Theatre

Early on the proceedings are interrupted by yelling and fighting in the alley from the bar next door. The men react from the window, which leads to the action spilling over into the apartment. A person that had been attacked on the street seeks refuge in the apartment and, when discovered, adds another element to the group. Alex (Jeff Kurysz) might be in a dress and red wig, but their gender identity remains undetermined as they resist any label while continuing to seek a sense of who they are. The police are called and two officers show up: female Officer Caruso (Sadieh Rifai) and male Officer Nowak (Eric Slater) each of whom later reveal their non-professional sides, and a Chicago-style interaction takes place. There is also a mind-blowing ‘mushroom’ smoking session, cleverly staged, with the inevitable fallout of the aftermath. Welcome to today’s world!

The men of Support Group for Men are regular people. Regular guys you can relate to. From the very first line, it feels like the audience is in masterful hands with playwright Ellen Fairey, whose 2009 play “Graceland ultimately landed her in New York’s Lincoln Center and next, to her TV work on “Nurse Jackie” and “Masters of Sex”; her whole point is that, of course, they are relatable. The script is highly entertaining, at times raucous but never mean. The cast is worthy of the script, and under Kimberly Senior’s adept direction, they deliver quality performances that reveal the common and moving humanity beyond the ultimately superficial differences of the characters, who are ordinary, just like the guy down the street. This is exactly the conversation that we need right now, and in this marvelously comic work, Fairey has hit the proverbial nail on the head…with a Talking Stick bat. If we can understand the men in this support group, there’s hope for hearing and understanding the guy down the street.

Rating: ★★★½

Support Group for Men continues through July 29th at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Tuesdays and Wednesdays 7:30pm, Thursdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm & 7:30pm.  Tickets are $25-$80, and are available by phone (312-443-3800) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Ryan Kitley (Brian), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Kevin), Anthony Irons (Delano) and Keith Kupferer (Roger)

Photos by Liz Lauren 




Anthony Irons (Delano), Ryan Kitley (Brian), Keith Kupferer (Roger), Jeff Kurysz (Alex), Sadieh Rifai (Officer Caruso), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Kevin), Eric Slater (Officer Nowak), Tony Bozzuto, Scott Cummins, Tom Hickey, Kenneth Johnson, Jonathan Nieves, Jess Thigpen (understudies)

behind the scenes

Kimberly Senior (director); Jack Magaw (set design); Noël Huntzinger (costume design); Jen Schriever (lighting design); Richard Woodbury (sound design); Erica Sartini-Combs & Adam Celcuore (casting); Isaac Gomez (dramaturgy); Alden Vasquez (production stage manager); Jonathan Nook (stage manager); Adrian Shelton (assistant director); Tommy Rapley (choreographer); Matt Hawkins (fight choreographer); Jeremy Cunningham (associate lighting designer), Liz Lauren (photos)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Comedy, Goodman Theatre, Johanna Dalton, New Work, Video, World Premier, YouTube

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