Playwright: Ellen Fairey
At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: Goodmantheatre.org; $25-$80. Runs through: July 29
It's tempting to give the side eye to a play titled Support Group for Men. Generally speaking, guys are not the demographic most in need of a support group right about nowespecially the cis het guys who meet weekly in Ellen Fairey's new play.
As it turns out, Support Group should not be judged by its title. The play is good, but not great. It peters out ( so to speak ), fizzling to a close several scenes after it should have ended. It's unrealistically tidy: Ignorant people open their minds. Lonely people find love. Cops are more apt to share their feelings than they are to shoot someone in the back.
But Support Group also has humor and a killer cast, anchored by Keith Kupferer as Roger, a fiftysomerthing white guy who is perpetually hurt and bitter because life hasn't turned out the way he wanted. Roger is also confused by non-gender pronouns, and all that they signify.
Directed by Kimberly Senior, Support Group follows one particularly eventful session in group leader Brian's ( Ryan Kitely ) Boystown apartment. While drunken fratboy Chads act like assholes below Brian's living-room window, the support group men get all up in their feelings. As cheesy as that sounds, it's genuinely moving, especially in Roger's case.
The other group members have issues too: Brian's major accomplishment in life is his ability to control his home lighting and music systems with Alexa. Delano ( Anthony Irons ) peaked as a teenage jock at Oak Park River Forest High School. Kevin ( Tommy Rivera-Vega ) is significantly younger than the other three. His troubles that are sometimes met with blank stares from his elders.
The group is upended by the arrival of Alex ( Jeff Kurysz ), a muscle-bound interloper who proceeds to smash the binary to bits ( metaphorically ) right in the middle of the living room.
Support Group for Men has been called transphobic on Instagram and Facebook by trans* people. The primary issue: Alex's character exists only to A ) get bashed and B ) enlighten the non-trans* characters about gender, sexuality and life in general. ( The criticism is based on a workshop of the production, which the Goodman says has been significantly rewritten for its mainstage debut. ) I'm not trans*, so it isn't my place to question the criticism's validity.
What I can say is that Kurysz makes Alex charismatic and easy to empathize with. I also found Alex heroic.
For those who grew up saying "Fuck that guy" every time John Wayne vanquished a tribe of Native Americans, Support Group for Men is a bit of a corrective. It is also quite funny, even before some sort of ayahuasca-like substance, complete with exuberant hallucination. And it wouldn't be a bad idea for Fairey to pen a sequel based on Alex's life outside the support group.