Chicago Theater Review: NAPERVILLE (Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 7, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


In Mat Smart’s decisively named Naperville the setting is the story. We’re eavesdroppers, listening in Joe Schermoly’s awesomely accurate Caribou Coffee outlet in “downtown” Naperville, a burg that’s the seat for DuPage County, just west of Chicago. A 100-minute, 2014 one-act by a former resident, Naperville pays insistent homage to suburban strugglers who improbably populate this coffeehouse from 5 a.m. to beyond its 10 p.m. closing.


In Theater Wit’s engaging but not enthralling Chicago premiere, they’re gathered—by the author more than any probability—to witness their individual and collective suffering and coping. In sometimes cute and contrived confessionals they become witnesses to their own woe. Maybe they’re helpers too, if actions come from talk. Of the latter there’s a lot.


The five quirky caffeine quenchers are a mother and son, the latter’s high school classmate (“Go, Warriors!”), a religious buddy, and the eccentric manager. 32-year-old Howard (a devoted but dull Mike Tepeli) has returned from Seattle to attend to his feisty, controlling mother Candice (Laura T. Fisher, a Chicago treasure). This tough-loving mom has gone blind, having detached her retina from a fall from a ladder while she was characteristically reorganizing their garage. Too stubborn to use her cane or even get rid of the ladder, hating to rely on others, needing to know about the clouds she can’t see, Candice is independent and, when she notices Anne, not above matchmaking.


Anne (earnest Abby Pierce) is busy on her laptop and tape recorder, preparing a podcast on Captain Joseph Naper, the boat-building, seafaring pioneer who founded the suburb and, with Abraham Lincoln, the county too. (Can you say “author’s mouthpiece”?) One of the once “cool” girls at Waubonsie Valley High School (which the author attended), the 32-year-old divorcee barely remembers Howard, except for a race they ran.


Depressed from her breakup with a caddish husband, Anne locks herself in the bathroom: She later lets in a worried Howard—presumably so they can imitate the “Candlelight” scene between former H.S. classmates Jim O’Connor and Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. But this (inferior) time, the roles are reversed: The supposed loser Howard gives an aspirational pep talk to once popular, now ailing, Anne. No “blue roses,” just small talk.

andrew-jessop-plays-t-c-in-naperville-at-theater-witInterrupting Smart’s organized interplay are Roy (sinisterly smiling Charlie Strater), a peppy parishioner at Candice’s church who argues that God is the only light she needs, and T.C. (goofy Andrew Jessop), the manager who, despite a split lip, plays a soothing clarinet and tries not to be fired for not kicking these folks out at closing time.

Conveniently or contrivedly, each survivor here has a sorrow to share. Conflicted Candice doesn’t want Howard to move back to care for her, but is trustingly eager to organize a bunch of volunteers (“Candy’s Angels”) to care for her. Howard has love to offer (well, not for Roy who might be a serial killer) but no takers. Anne is badly recovering from her mate’s betrayal. T.C. has his split lip. Comparatively happy and irritatingly chirpy, religious Roy loves to sail: In a pointedly sentimental scene, he takes them on an imaginary cruise on Lake Michigan. The final, star-studded scene is an apotheosis: They collectively imagine shipbuilding Captain Naper leaving the sea to forge a new life in the Illinois heartland where decent folks like these will populate plays.

Naperville, dir. by

The author’s not-so-smart idea, I guess, is that small souls can still tell good tales. Jeremy Wechsler’s painstaking (but not pain-giving) staging honors the play’s Caribou-cute credo: “Life is short. Stay awake for it.” As they process their pain, Theater Wit’s quintet efficiently deliver the arch sentiments, patented petty patter, formulaic friction, and, occasionally, lovely revelations of a very predetermined drama. But it’s all too easy to sympathize with T.C., who wants them to leave before he gets fired for expanding the store’s hours. We need to go too.


andrew-jessop-laura-t-fisher-and-mike-tepeli-in-napervillephotos by Charles Osgood

Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on October 16, 2016
EXTENDED to November 6, 2016
for tickets, call 773.975.8150
or visit Theater Wit

for more shows,
visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tony Dima September 8, 2016 at 11:07 am

Memories of the wonderful people we met at Caribou, the great times and, yes, the fun we had with the friendships we made.


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