Scott Drummond and Sam Breslin Wright in We’re Gonna Be Okay. Photo by Bill Brymer.
We’re Gonna Be Okay
By Basil Kreimendahl
Directed by Lisa Peterson
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
As a playwright, the annual Humana Festival is easily one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a wonderful time to see some of the best new work being produced anywhere, and it’s especially exhilarating when the work is that of a fellow Louisvillian. Throughout watching the show on opening night, I felt a sense of camaraderie with Basil Kreimendahl, despite having never met them.
The first thing you notice about this production is the absolutely gorgeous set by Dane Laffrey. There is sense of symmetry and color that contemporaneously evokes the early-60s period in which the play is set as well as the more thematic elements of Kreimendahl’s script. When the stage transforms in the second act, Laffrey achieves the same effect via completely different methods. It is nevertheless an equally skillful display of set construction and design.
Going to any new play festival, of course, means seeing new work, so in the spirit of such an outing, I recommend going to this play with as little knowledge of the plot as possible. However, here’s a little morsel to tide you over.
We’re Gonna Be Okay is set before and during the days of the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Efran (Sam Breslin Wright) and Sul (Scott Drummond) are neighbors who are weathering the tumultuous time period in different ways. Drummond instills in Sul a reticence that was common for men of the time. For him, the impending crisis is something to be weathered. Efran is less optimistic of survival and wishes to build a bomb shelter underneath the two men’s shared property. Eventually, Efran convinces Sul to do most of the labor while he provides the finances and resources.
The opinions on this venture of Sul’s wife, Mag (Annie McNamara) and Efran’s wife, Leena (Kelly McAndrew) are the opposite of their respective husbands’, and in terms of the play’s structure, this is a smart decision. It makes for a fun dynamic to watch unfold on stage. Add Sul and Mag’s daughter, Deanna (Annie-Marie Trabolsi), and Efran and Leena’s son, Jake (Andrew Cutler), to the mix, and you have ample opportunity to discuss gender and social politics under pressure as well.
Unfortunately, this never quite comes to fruition. Most observations made in the play are ones that have either been made before in other plays or are obvious to the point that they become inert to the modern audience member. And in the second act, when the play really begins to ramp up its intentions, these commentaries feel rushed and inconsequential.
That is not to say that the play doesn’t find times to be endearingly funny. In fact, it does so often. McAndrew, in particular, delves deep into the character of Leena to deliver a nuanced performance that evokes a sense of delight and frustration, and Trabolsi and Cutler – both members of this year’s Professional Training Company – give sharp performances as the teenagers that indicate that their training is paying off. Despite these performances and however funny the play is, it seems that the levity distracts from a play that could have been, one that would have perhaps been more resonant in today’s uncertain political landscape. It’s difficult to say what Kreimendahl or Director Lisa Peterson’s intentions were, but I left the theater feeling like I’d just witnessed a missed opportunity, albeit an entertaining one.
The crowd leapt to its feet after an ending that I found to be a little bit of a letdown, but upon reflection I found that I did enjoy the journey if not the destination. New plays are experiments after all, and I think Kreimendahl has the opportunity to excavate something truly wonderful.
We’re Gonna Be Okay
March 7 – April 9, 2017
Part of the 41st Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.