Review: WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY from American Theater Company

Review: WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY from American Theater Company

Saraí Rodriguez, BrittneyLove Smith, and Penelope Walker. Photo by Michael Brosilow

By Elizabeth Ellis

A wise spiritual teacher once told me that the definition of fear was a warning of impending potential pain. As is evident, especially in the last year or so, fear has acted as the primary fuel for the decisions of our elected representatives and the policies they enact for our country. We can also look back to 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis to see one of the most terrifying periods in our nation’s history, and it’s this time of fear and tension that inspired Basil Kremendahl’s thought-provoking and timely WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY.

Efran (the pitch-perfect Kelli Simpkins) is the 1960’s suburban every-white-man who is in charge of the steaks on his grill, and sees himself as the lord of the manor, whose musings about nuclear war and the state of the nation he makes into facts. With uncertainty looming during the Cold War, Efran seizes on the idea of building a bomb shelter. Possessing the financial means but not the know-how to bring this idea to fruition, Efran convinces his initially wary neighbor, Sul (the dry and wonderfully understated Penelope Walker) to assist him in providing the physical labor in constructing the shelter. Along for this bumpy ride into the bomb shelter are Efran’s wife, the smart and restive Leena (the funny and sassy Adithi Chandrashekar) and Sul’s wife, Mag (the sweet BrittneyLove Smith), an early participant in the 1960’s spiritual movement. Joining the adults are the kids: Sul and Mag’s son Jake (the posturing yet endearing Avi Roque) and Efran and Leena’s daughter Deanna (Saraí Rodriguez, whose singing and guitar playing lend a beautiful, soulful quality to the show), who share appropriately adolescent concerns about their sexuality as well as who will populate the planet post-apocalypse.

Director Will Davis brings the cast from an informal relationship of casually friendly neighbors to a bonded group whose lives may end together, and finds many moments of humanity, grace, and humor, even under the specter of nuclear war. William Boles’ set perfectly captures the sunny easiness of a barbecue in an early 1960’s backyard, which then converts to an appropriately claustrophobic bomb shelter, replete with dozens of cans of Campbell’s tomato soup. All the while, green bombs, resembling leaves on a huge tree, hang ominously over the set. Rachel K. Levy’s lighting design captures the feeling of beautiful sunshine as well as the harshness of limited artificial light in the shelter.

The parallels between 1962 and now can’t be ignored, and WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY is an excellent choice to see at this time, as the infantile and antagonistic leaders of two nations put not only their own citizens at risk, but the entire world, as they challenge each other to see whose nuclear buttons are bigger.

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.