An Evening with ‘The Niceties’ at Writers Theatre

I love the escape of theatre. I love that I can pause my life to steal away into a dark room, watch art that will spin my brain around, and return to my world feeling transformed. And I’m so very lucky to have a world-class theatre right here in Glencoe.

This past week I was invited to take in a performance of The Niceties at Writers Theatre. On an evening so cold the air stung my cheeks, I grabbed three friends and walked into the show, ready for whatever the experience held.

Two women 
A professor’s office 
A conversation on American history 

Your first thought might be…that’s not exactly riveting. But oh, the simplicity of this story  should not be overlooked. For one, the dialogue is sharp- I got the feeling that writer Eleanor Burgess placed every syllable of this play with purpose. At first, these women are chatting, then suddenly they are deep diving, threatening, accusing, worrying, chastising, provoking, and revealing. It’s a game of verbal volleyball. And you will feel bumped, set, and spiked.

In the show program, there was a paper insert. In it, the theatre broke the fourth wall: ‘you might find yourself tempted to choose a side. We urge you to resist that temptation. There are no heroes and no villains in this play.”

This is entirely true. The audience is also a part of the show. Just listen…you will hear cheers, jeers, guffaws, whoops, and even stunned gasps among your fellow viewers. It’s as if we were all crammed in that professor’s office together. You will get the sense that some of this uncomfortable dialogue has been waiting to be let out for hundreds of years. You will be shocked as you consider your own understanding of history- what are the parts you celebrate? What are the parts you don’t know? What are the parts that have been swiftly erased altogether?

As for the verbal volleyball game…it’s emotional as well. You will fret that as soon as you identify with one character, you quickly align with the other. You will be puzzled, concerned, and dismayed. You will realize that a happy ending is not coming. You will sit in silence when the lights go dark, and you will listen. And keep listening. And think that listening is the best thing you can do right now.

I walked into the cold night transformed once again. The conversation among my friends was wild- dissecting bits that stung, rehashing the dialogue that stayed. As we split off to drive home, we hopped on phone calls to marvel about the show. Then woke up this morning to do more of the same.

So why do we watch a story that confront uncomfortable truths? I will borrow a powerful line from the character Zoe: “We want to know the pain was worth it.”

I remain grateful for the chance to see The Niceties. I hope you see it, too.

Editor’s note: I was gifted four complimentary tickets to the show and encouraged to share my opinions, whatever they may be.

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