The death of a family member, particularly that of a parent, is an experience full of difficult transitions. Suddenly, a person with whom you have spent your entire life is gone. How do we best honor their lives? Could we have treated them better? Could we have anticipated their illness or unhappiness with more selfless intuition? How do we healthily move on with such a loss at our core? These are the questions that can either break a family or unite them. Happy Few Theatre Company‘s new production the goodbye room, written and directed by Eric Gilde, aims to uncover what unites us in times of grief, guilt, and uncertainty, and how family bonds are so essential to our identities.
In addition to the loss of their mother Carolyn, sisters Bex and Maggie are experiencing major life transitions of their own. Bex (Ellen Adair) is an accountant living in Chicago whose marriage is on the rocks. Maggie (Sarah Killough) lives closer to her Midwestern family home and is anxious about her demanding work schedule and her static love life. Their relationship is at the center of this quiet, genuine story. When Bex first arrives for her mother’s funeral, she finds her sister’s belongings scattered across her old bed. She reacts angrily, already stressed from her flight and from the circumstances bringing her home, but the stuff on her bed is more than just an annoyance. It’s representative of Bex’s absence in the house and Maggie’s added presence, of Maggie’s resentment and Bex’s guilt, and of their strained adult relationship.
Their father Edgar (Michael Selkirk) has a far calmer disposition and lets his true feelings go largely understated. He masks his grief with dry humor and demands little from those around him.This steady demeanor, however, is tested when the sisters’ easygoing childhood friend, Sebastian (Craig Wesley Divino), tries to help the family settle back into normalcy and reveals a crucial detail about Carolyn’s death.
The goodbye room provides a genuine portrayal of a family dynamic. Each character is deeply sympathetic– I could see my own parents and siblings in their complex needs and conflicting responses to grief. While at times a bit heavy-handed (some scenes go a bit too long, and there’s a supernatural suggestion that this essentially family-centered drama could have done without) Gilde’s script provides insight in what is said as much as in what remains unsaid. The play also moves deftly between sadness, confusion, and joy. It allows for the audience to observe the characters in awkward, silent confrontations as well as in boozy, late-night silliness. The company’s superb acting sets a natural, well-paced tone, as does the excellent sound and set design with an attention to detail (oily pizza plates, a frog-faced mug, a crumb-filled rug) that invests us in this family space.
The goodbye room plays at The Bridge Theatre at Shetler Studios through March 19. Tickets here.