Review | “Twilight Bowl” at Goodman Theatre

Review | “Twilight Bowl” at Goodman Theatre

Pictured (l-r): Anne Thompson, Heather Chrisler, Hayley Burgess, and Becca Savoy. Photo by Liz Lauren.

By Elizabeth Ellis

The entire map of the US is dotted with small towns, and as much as they may differ from state to state, one feature they share is that many of their younger residents are looking to get out. Whether it’s to escape a future of stultifying predictability (especially in a one-industry town), the limited opportunities to meet new people and to expose oneself to an array of different experiences, or simply everyone knowing your business—many young adults head out to live what must be a more exciting, interesting, and fulfilling life. Some, however, stay and thrive because they love their small towns, and dream smaller, less complicated dreams. In Rebecca Gilman’s thoughtful and incisive new play TWILIGHT BOWL, with unflinching yet sensitive direction by Erica Weiss, six young women wrestle with the choices of the familiar paths versus the forging of new identities, and the discoveries that accompany the bumpy transition from the teenage years to adulthood.

TWILIGHT BOWL combines the considerable talents of an all-female cast, crew and director, and congratulations to the Goodman for taking such a positive and decisive step forward for an underrepresented demographic. As the play opens in Reynolds, Wisconsin, four friends and recent high school graduates have gathered at the local hangout, the Twilight Bowl bar and bowling alley, to say goodbye to Jaycee (the wonderful and conflicted Heather Chrisler), who is off to prison. Jaycee, a second-generation user of drugs and alcohol, is engaged in prescription drug fraud; she acquired fentanyl for her father, who in turn sold it to high school kids. Her cousin Sam (the excellent Becca Savoy) will be leaving her job at the bar to head to Ohio State University on a bowling scholarship, but she fears she may not be making the right decision. Sam’s coworker Clarice (the tough and complex Hayley Burgess) also works at the local Days Inn as a housekeeper, and harbors more than a little resentment toward Jaycee. Their ultra-Christian friend Sharlene (the sweet yet harsh Anne E. Thompson) works at an old folks home, and though saving herself for marriage, explores the world of Evening Rose, the Tupperware-inspired company that provides “marital aids for the Christian lifestyle.”

Fast forward to Thanksgiving weekend: Sam returns home with a college friend, Winnetka native Maddy (the hilarious Angela Morris), a nattering North Shore annoyance who constantly smokes her weed pen. The unlikely friendship between the two began when Maddy needed someone to accompany her to an abortion. Maddy attempts to keep this fact a secret, but, more than a little stoned, she divulges this information to Sharlene. In one of the most painful moments of the show, and in true anti-choice fashion, Sharlene excoriates Maddy for her actions. The calming and most supportive force in the group of friends is Brielle (the superb Mary Taylor, in a standout performance). Brielle did leave Reynolds to go to college at UW/Platteville, but a lack of focus and a lack of funds brought her back to the Twilight Bowl.

Two and a half years pass: Jaycee has been released from prison on parole, Sam has succeeded at OSU in both academics and bowling, Sharlene and Clarice still work at their jobs, and Brielle is planning to move to nearby Darlington with her boyfriend. Sam displays more than a little smugness at her present successful lot in life (she takes a verbal swipe to those who choose a small-town existence). Jaycee, now sober and a Christian who works with and attends the same church as Sharlene, warily takes first steps towards beginning a life completely alien to her. Clarice faces her resentment towards her cousin, as she and Jaycee forge a deeper relationship as friends and relatives. The only one who seems to be happy with her life exactly as it is at the moment is Brielle. While she is not looking to her move to Darlington to give her a career boost, she is going to have a job—she has also signed up to sell “marital aids” with Evening Rose. As the play ends, the friends decide to start spending their Sundays doing something previously considered anathema to any cool kid: playing Scrabble.

Rebecca Gilman brings her signature remarkable ear for dialogue and truth in character development to TWILIGHT BOWL, though the play is more of a slice-of-life examination of a segment of a small town than a riveting narrative. Erica Weiss makes us care for, invest in, and relate to each of the characters, even when they make bad decisions or lash out at those closest to them. Regina Garcia’s set is absolute perfection as a small town bar: from the Leinenkugel neon bar signs to the jumble of bowling trophies to the vinyl bar stools to the red plastic drinking glasses, you know this bar because you’ve been there, probably many times. Victoria Deiorio’s music and sound beautifully capture the essence of a loud and fun neighborhood joint.

Everyone contemplates this question as they move into their adult years: Is this what I want to do with my life? Is this direction in which I want my future to go? Are these the people I want to spend my time with? The answers to these questions indicate whether you accept your place and choose not to make waves – or break free from the strictures that you had no part in creating, and become the person you alone want to be. As Gilman’s six women carve out their futures and identities, we reflect on who we were and who we may still hope to be. We cheer for them, hope for them, and wish them success.

“Twilight Bowl” runs through March 10. For more information visit

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.