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BWW Reviews: The Rep's Inspiring Production of SOUPS, STEWS AND CASSEROLES: 1976

A graduate of the Rep's Ignite! Play Festival (the 2014 festival takes place this week), playwright Rebecca Gilman's work Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976 is currently receiving it's world premiere in the Studio Theatre of the Loretto-Hilton. This is a smart and funny piece with a message that still resonates today, and I found myself genuinely moved by it. Having been a teen during the year 1976 when this action takes place, I can readily identify with the themes and values presented here. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

There was a time when America had thousands of family run factories dotting the landscape and providing secure employment opportunities for their communities. And then something happened. The specter of Corporate America reared its ugly head and began snatching up these small union houses and either taking them under their umbrella, or selling them off for profit once they'd been modernized. Through the process came devastation. Jobs became scare. People were forced to move a lot of times, and some of those towns never recovered. How do we balance the task of "getting ahead" while remaining loyal and true to our friends?

Vincent Teninty is excellent as family patriarch and prime earner, Kim. He's at a crossroads. He has the chance to become management once his company is bought out, and he grabs it. But, it's changing him, making him less of a human being. His loving wife, Kat (a radiant Nancy Bell), can see it, but she wants the good life too. Precocious daughter Kelly (very nicely performed by Emma Wisniewski) seems to sum it all up best when she's debating the death penalty. She can't defend a murderer for their actions, but that doesn't mean they should be murdered for their crime. It diminishes us as human beings.

Susan Greenhill is sharp as a tack as Kat's close friend and "mother figure", Joanne. When the dynamics begin to change she's the first one to offer advice, even when it's ignored. Jerzy Gwiazdowski is also strong as union rep Kyle. He struggles to win Kim over to his side once management has completely taken over the cheese plant, but he never gives up on trying. Mhari Sandoval rounds out the cast neatly as Elaine, the wife of the man behind the corporate takeover. Lonely and bored by her surroundings, she seeks out Kat and her kitchen for its comforting vibe. She wants to stir up small town America, and she certainly makes a impression, for better or worse, on this increasingly dysfunctional family.

Seth Gordon's direction is expertly crafted and executed. Though you might at first think of the story as having kind of a working class sitcom feel to it, you'll be drawn in quickly by the characters portrayed by this splendid cast. Kevin Depinet's scenic design really captures the era presented, as do Lou Bird's costumes. Neither is tacky in their approach, just accurate. John Wylie's lighting and Rusty Wandall's sound design add to the overall experience.

The Rep's terrific staging of Rebecca Gilman's Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976 absolutely demands your time and attention. It's a poignant, and often hilarious, look back at the beginning of the end of small town America. It continues through March 30, 2014 in the Studio Theatre of the Loretto-Hilton.

Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

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