Roundtable with the Cast of The Crowd You're In With

By Suzy Evans in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 10, 2009 6:00PM

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The cast of The Crowd You're In With. (From left to right) Rob Riley, Janelle Snow, Sean Cooper, Coburn Goss, Kiff Vanden Heuvel, Stephanie Childers and Linda Gehringer. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.

Marital disputes make great theater, and Rebecca Gilman’s latest play, The Crowd You’re In With, is no exception. However, while the play, making its Chicago premiere at the Goodman, opens with talk of periods and baby showers, it evolves into a complex look at how our friends, and others around us, can dictate the course of our lives.

Three couples gather for an Independence Day barbeque in the backyard of a two flat in Lincoln Square. Dan and Windsong (Kiff Vanden Heuvel and Stephanie Childers) are expecting a baby, Jasper and Melinda (Coburn Goss and Janelle Snow) are trying to have a baby and Tom and Karen (Rob Riley and Linda Gehringer) are living quite happily without the nuisance of kids. The party begins like any other, but when the subject of children arises, tensions flame up, which are not helped when old friend and pothead Dwight (Sean Cooper) shows up with cheap beer.

But don’t be put off by the parenting theme. The show reflects (almost too perfectly) life, in Chicago or anywhere, and even if you’re not thinking about marriage or kids, these characters will definitely get inside your head. We sat down with the cast and talked about Chicago, barbeques, and our own “crowds.” Read a taste of our roundtable interview below or you can listen to the entire discussion here:

Chicagoist: How do you think different Chicago audiences can relate to this play?

Coburn Goss: First of all it’s set in Chicago, and it’s a setting that I think all Chicagoans are familiar with: a barbeque. So immediately when they walk in, they see that backyard that everyone has so I think right off the bat we’re on home team.

Janelle Snow: Everyone wants to see their life reflected up on stage a little bit sometimes, and it’s replicated in such specific detail that it’s kind of fun.

Linda Gehringer: And I can say that I’ve never done a play in Chicago, but I think this play could play anywhere because of what it’s about. […] It’s just about a human situation that we all face at some point or another in our lives.

Chicagoist: Have your own experiences living and working in Chicago helped you inform these characters?

Sean Cooper: I know lots of guys like Dwight, and I say that not to be joking, I know a couple guys. There’s a bunch of little theaters here in town, and there’s guys like Dwight. And I kind of took two of them and mashed them together and said that’s going to be Dwight.

Janelle: We should have a contest where we try to guess.

Stephanie Childers:
I want names later.

Chicagoist: Anyone else take someone you knew?

Kiff Vanden Heuvel: There’s a lot of me in Dan. (Laughter) When I first heard the script, the character’s 33. I just had a baby when we moved to town. We live in Lincoln Square. My daughter’s name is Ilse; we’re going to name the baby Iris. It was just that kind of stuff that makes you go uhhh, why did they, uhhh okay. Let’s give it our best shot because I really felt like this character was very close to a lot of the stuff that I do. […] And [author] Rebecca (Gilman) being a Chicago person that certainly feels rooted in the town too. I think so much of what we took from the text formed the Chicago flavor.

Sean: There’s not a quintessential like stereotypical Chicago. There’s not the Chicago guy. To get back to Linda’s point, these jokers live everywhere. It doesn’t have that like Chicago stereotype guy in it.

Chicagoist: Do any of you relate to your character specifically or another character in the show?

Janelle: I hate to spoil it for the audience but I’m deliberately and happily childless. I actually saw the play in San Francisco and my experience of seeing the play, not having any idea that it would ever be here or that I would be in it, [was] I love that it speaks to the point of view of people who have decided not to have children. […] I don’t really feel comfortable talking about my decision not to have children because it’s received so poorly that I’d just rather not talk about it and have people silently feel sorry for me and think that I’m trying and just can’t.

Kiff: What strikes me as interesting about that too is that it is such a private and personal thing that for some reason people feel compelled to ask you. […] For some reason around this particular issue, people feel like they have freedom to invade your personal space and privacy. It’s very strange.

Chicagoist: Have any of you been a part of a barbeque like this one?

Sean: Every family reunion I’ve ever been to has little elements of this I would say. Somebody drinks a little too much. Little family resentments come blowing over. Like I hate you I love you I hate you I love you.

Chicagoist: That’s another thing that someone a little bit younger can see. When you are talking about hating your parents, and is it better to be in a nursing home and know that you have someone out there who could be coming to see you or not have anyone at all?

Stephanie: That moment did strike a huge chord in me. Because I’m 32, I don’t know if I want kids. It actually just occurred to me a couple years ago that I don’t have to have them. Because I went through life thinking that that’s what you did. You got in your 30’s, you meet someone, and you make babies. Like it never occurred to me until a couple years ago. […] And I don’t know which is worse, honestly. I think they’re both kind of heartbreaking in a way.

Chicagoist: There’s obviously nothing to do about babies in the title. Do you think our lives are dictated by the people we spend our time with or can we be independent thinkers?

Coburn: Well, there’s the study that was done not too long ago that said if you work in an office where people around you are depressed, you’re likely to be depressed yourself. I think that’s very true. […] They even go so far as to say that if you’re around people who are overweight then you yourself will probably be overweight. It’s enormous.

Stephanie: And choosing the crowd you’re in with is an important thing.

Coburn: It might not feel like you’ve chosen them but you really sort of have.

Stephanie: I feel like I have. I mean every person in my life right now; every friend I have who I’m very close to is in my life because I want them to be. And I don’t choose to spend time with people who are going to bring me down or make me fat.

Linda: This year because the election was so on the forefront. And I have a lot of friends in my neighborhood in California, but I realized that all these friends of mine were rabid Republicans. I actually didn’t even know that. And so suddenly this is the crowd I’m in with, and I’m thinking these are not my people!

Janelle: It’s like you’re jogging with a group of people and all of sudden they all turn right and you’re like, ‘Well I was planning on going straight.’ And then all of sudden you realize, then you’re all alone. And it’s much harder to keep jogging. It’s much easier to go, ‘Yeah okay. I’ll turn right. Everybody else is turning right.’

Chicagoist: There’s a lot of comedy and a lot of drama, and as actors how do balance that dynamic in the show?

Stephanie: That is life and I think a lot of times sad things are really funny. And if they’re not, they’re not real. I’ve never been in a situation in a tragic moment where I haven’t laughed at least once. I think that’s just the way it goes.

Linda: These are my favorite kind of plays too because laughter opens people up. So then when it’s time for them to feel, they’re just ready to go.

Chicagoist: What is one of your favorite parts about being involved in this show in Chicago and what do you hope audiences take away from it?

Stephanie: Well, I love this group of people and it’s been so fun. Everyone’s so talented and I think Rebecca Gilman is pretty brilliant. And doing a Chicago play in Chicago in the summer is so fun. It’s so fun. Because everyone goes to barbeques all summer long so they’ll come to this play, and it’ll just be what they did last night.

Kiff: I really love the feeling of community I have with the audience in this piece. More so than sketch comedy stuff I’ve done or whatever. […] They just feel so a part of it.

The Crowd You're In With runs through June 21 at the Goodman's Owen Theatre (170 N. Dearborn St.). Tickets are $15-$29, or cheaper if you buy them day of through the theater's special ticket programs.