University Theatre’s production of “Twilight Bowl” by Rebecca Gilman opened Friday, taking a slice of Wisconsin life and bringing it to the stage.
With Jessica Fisch’s brilliant direction, Arianna White’s hyper-detailed scenic design, and the strong ensemble’s thoughtful performances, University Theatre created a show that was an intriguing portrait of lives generally easy to overlook.
Set in the bar of a bowling alley in Reynolds, Wisconsin, the show focused on five young Wisconsin women — and one from a Chicago suburb — facing different paths of adulthood over the course of two years.
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The show felt true to the contrasting post-high school lives of people growing up in small Wisconsin towns, resonating with many students in the audience. Hometown hero Sam (Bri Hunter) is a high school bowling star gearing up to attend Ohio State on a scholarship. Her cousin Jaycee (Erika Marks), on the other hand, is soon to be incarcerated after selling prescription drugs to help her dad. There’s Clarice (Shasparay Lighteard) who works multiple low-paying jobs and the devout Christian Sharlene (Zhiyun Zhao) who loves her friends, though their profanities make her uncomfortable.
There’s even the Chicago suburbs outsider Maddy (Erin Wathen), who does not realize how arrogant she sounds by calling “Ohio State” her safety school when talking to the self-supporting Brielle (Alexandria Chapes), who had to leave University of Wisconsin-Platteville because it was too expensive. Maddy’s humble brags about the “careerism” of New Trier High School — one of the richest school districts in Illinois and the whole country — brought well-knowing chuckles from the audience.
Though all the characters besides Maddy come from the same place, the “different lanes” show what privileges they do and do not have. One example of this is cousins Sam and Jaycee. Sam, the bowling star, blames Jaycee for going to jail, claiming that Jaycee did not “apply herself” like Sam did. But Sam did not consider that her upbringing allowed her safety and support that Jaycee never had.
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Throughout the show, the characters all demonstrate moments of blindness to their own privileges and others’ pain. Chapes said this contributes to the play’s overall theme.
“I hope that people seeing the show take a moment to think about how they connect with other people,” Chapes said.
It was easy to forget that the play featured an all-female ensemble, simply because the characters felt so real. Gilman wrote fleshed-out and complicated characters for the talented cast to connect with. Marks noted that they spoke vulgarly, which is how women actually talk. Typical roles for female actresses do not always represent that.
“This play is about the real relationships that women have,” Marks said. “I think that’s important. I think it’s important for women who are seeing this to know it’s not taboo to be themselves.”
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The play is part of the Big Ten Theatre Consortium New Play Initiative, an effort to commission a series of plays by American female playwrights. Prior to its run at UW, “Twilight Bowl” had its premiere at University of Iowa and received an additional production at the prestigious Goodman Theater in Chicago.
In addition to the female playwright and cast, almost the entire design team was female as well, from the sound, props, and lighting to the dramaturgy and costumes.
“The amount of girl power that went into this show is insane,” Marks said.
“Twilight Bowl” runs April 11 through 28 in the Gilbert V. Hemsley Theatre in Vilas Hall. Student tickets are $15. To purchase tickets, visit artsticketing.wisc.edu, or visit the Vilas Hall or Memorial Union box office.