Ask Aunt Susan – By Katie Smith

May 21, 2012 in Cindy Bandle Young Critics by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

The Goodman Theatre is presenting the New Stages Amplified series in order to give the public a glimpse plays that are in development. Ask Aunt Susan by Seth Bockley is a component of this series. The collective effort of Betty (Brittany Burch), Aunt Susan (Andy Carey), Lydia (Jennie Moreau), Steve (Steve Pickering) and the waitress Cleo (Justine Turner) was impressive, but failed to capture my full attention.

The cast put forth their best to convey the story of a web page gone wrong. The Aunt Susan web page becomes a place of refuge for suffering women to seek advice from a “woman” that seems to have all of the answers. Replying to women’s problems, however, becomes too much for the young  man (who is better known as Aunt Susan) to handle.

The play takes a turn for the more intriguing as the plot moves towards a distracted and flustered Aunt Susan being blackmailed by a waitress who claims to  have uncovered his secret.   However, the blackmailer turns out to be someone that Aunt Susan trusted. A surprising twist ending brings the play together as an unexpected betrayal shatters what was once the Aunt Susan safe house for women across the world.

Although the acting was not entirely convincing at first, the ending brought the play to life and the backdrop, though simple, added to the chaotic change of scenes throughout the play. The scenery never changed, but had a component or prop of each scene within the backdrop–a mangled bed frame, a coffee table similar to the one that Aunt Susan completes her work at, and numerous computer screens of constant pleas from women begging Aunt Susan to help them. Each component brought the sections of the play together while simultaneously representing the chaotic development of the play, as well as the web page’s success.

As the movie The Social Network brought forth the effect of social networking, Aunt Susan reveals the reality of the web paging business behind it.  This business portrayed in the play is whimsical and full of deceit and greed. The quick pace of the play was intended to add to the constant growth of the Ask Aunt Susan site, but was hard to keep up with. This eccentric wistfulness gives this play a lot of potential, but I often found myself pondering what to order for dinner rather than focusing in on the playwright’s intentions. Needless to say, even though the play had moments of humor, the actors failed to fully embrace their  characters. The lack of passion to fully embody the role that they were playing ultimately led to a play lacking in excitement. The actors seemed to lose sight of what they were trying to portray and therefore, I lost my desire to contemplate what was being played out before me.