Review: YOU GOT OLDER at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Review: YOU GOT OLDER at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Pictured: Caroline Neff and Francis Guinan. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

By Elizabeth Ellis

In today’s world where many of our friendships and romantic relationships contain a significant element of online activity — meeting and dating, social media, communication primarily via text and photos — what many of us long for, ironically, is actual physical contact. Physical affection from those we care about can be so therapeutic, and yet most of us hurry through our days and think about it only as a step on the path towards a goal like sexual activity. In Clare Barron’s thoughtful and engaging YOU GOT OLDER, with wonderful and sensitive direction from Jonathan Berry, all the characters are dealing with the themes of love and loss. What they want to do is make authentic connections, feel real affection, and allow its healing to enter their lives. Even though the people they love are right in front of them, the characters find themselves hamstrung by their own inabilities to bond and handle affection.

Mae (the luminous Caroline Neff), a single and unemployed attorney, has come home to the Pacific Northwest to tend to her gentle and loving father, who is suffering from terminal cancer. As Mae makes her way through her childhood surroundings now with adult eyes, she allows herself to engage in adult desires. A high school acquaintance, Mac (the winning and funny Glenn Davis), initially mistakes Mae for her sister, but they follow through on their attraction for each other, even so far as Mae revealing the presence of a mysterious rash on her back, which does nothing to dampen neither Mae’s nor Mac’s ardor. In fact, Mac has a strange affinity for such afflictions. When Mac applies healing ointment to Mae’s rash, you can see Mae’s relief not only through the medicinal qualities of the cream, but in the gentleness of Mac’s touch. Mae craves this contact. Mae also explores her desires through a fantasy man, a cocksure, chaps-wearing cowboy (the hilarious and sexy Gabriel Ruíz), who visits Mae in her room at night and dominates her mind and body.

Part of what makes Jonathan Berry’s direction stay with you after the show ends is that he allows his actors the space and time to make real discoveries and connections in the moments. This lends truth and dimension to each relationship, even in the smallest interactions. Caroline Neff is all droll self-assuredness, except at several points where she allows herself to sit with the enormity of the impending loss of her father. In these moments, she is absolutely heartbreaking. Francis Guinan, soulful and beautiful as the dying patriarch, gives a masterclass in vulnerability as he goes about the simplest tasks, like tending to his pepper plants. Excellent work comes from the supporting cast, too – Audrey Francis, Emjoy Gavino, and David Lind as Mae’s siblings. Their improvised picnic in their father’s hospital room perfectly embody the slightly uncomfortable coming-together of family who genuinely care about each other but don’t really know each other as adults, nor how to deal with an emotionally loaded circumstance like a parent’s serious illness. Meghan Raham’s set beautifully conveys the different scenes in Mae’s experience, though at moments it feels a bit too large for such an intimate play. While Barron’s script meanders at points, and sometimes it’s not clear what the ultimate point is, it’s invigorating to see female sexuality and desire explored onstage in such an honest manner.

YOU GOT OLDER follows in the path of several recent plays produced here that deal with moving away from the fun and playtime of young adulthood into more serious and life-changing situations that accompany the earliest periods of middle age. This one definitely earns its imprimatur, especially because of the excellent work by Neff, and the deftness with which Barron handles the questions concerning sex, life, loss, and love.

YOU GOT OLDER runs through March 11th. For more information visit www.steppenwolf.org.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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