Ask Aunt Susan – By Olivia Leone

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

“Words of wisdom to cheer me up.” Betty, played by Brittany Burch, said these  suggestive final words to Aunt Susan over a message online in Ask Aunt Susan at the Goodman Theatre. She had just run away with Steve, played by the humorous Steve Pickering, after they conned sarcastic Aunt Susan – brilliantly performed by Andy Carey,  Lydia and the World Wide Web of Ask Aunt Susan. Whatever the intent of that suggestion, I felt the ending was perceived differently. The show was definitely one that kept others pondering or asking questions after one left the theatre. I had words of wisdom bopping in my head. Whether they were based on Internet lies, relationship truths, or some combination of the two.

I walked into a sold out Owen Theatre at the Goodman. I stared upon the set, which was covered from stage floor to backdrop in white gray paint. It creates an open and spacious feeling resembling a dream sequence. The kind of dream where you’re walking in pure whiteness and can only hear yourself in narration. In this case, it was like an open Internet, unexplored. The stage has a large pole protruding from a hole in the floor. The pole is like a waterfall crashing down on Aunt Susan’s character, causing his anxiety. On this pole is the breakfast booth Aunt Susan sits at when typing his responses to the lonely, lovestruck women; his bed causing his night terrors; the ceiling fan; and everything else that drives his life into the chaotic mess that carries on throughout the show. As the lights dim, the show begins like someone starting a computer. It has its fast and slow moments like uploading a site. The lighting is magnificent! When speaking about the Ask Aunt Susan website, two screens on the pole show a site being operated very quickly, while the lighting consists of pixels and monograms filling the entire stage. The sound effects of someone typing on a keyboard and clicking on a computer mouse really connect the audience. It is very believable! Monitor screens are used in every scene.

The actors are incredibly spot on. Every actor fully embodies the character they portray. The quirkiness that these characters possess made the show comical yet enthralling. The costumes are quite interesting. Justine Turner plays the waitress, Cleo, and Jill–each an employer at either a bar or café that Aunt Susan frequents during the show. Her ability to accomplish all her quick costume and character changes is marvelous. The waitress has a motherly 80’s vibe. Cleo is a Gothic punk obsessed with death metal and annoyed by the drunken men that she has to serve every night. Jill is a sweet yet emotional wreck when it comes to serving the guests at her café. I also love the shirt that Aunt Susan wore during the show. His T-shirt has a Doctor Seuss cartoon and the title, “Green Eggs and Ham” in French. This shows his attachment to his child-like dreams, but with a more sophisticated version preconceived.

On the evening I saw the play, the audience ranged from teens to older adult. With jokes regarding Facebook and texting lingo to quips about Ginger Rogers and the serious situations that people go through in relationships, I could not have imagined a better audience age range. The show has a spark when every little help-seeking story or question is posted on the Ask Aunt Susan site. Everyone in their lifetime has struggled with at least one unfortunate situation just like one of the lonely women on the Ask Aunt Susan site–ranging from abusive relationships, to raising or helping a special needs child, or even money problems with today’s economy. I felt that at one point I wanted to ask Aunt Susan for advice. It was as if I was trying to seek comfort like the strangers posting on the website. After hearing all the questions and love Aunt Susan shared with these strangers, audience members seemed as if they craved this attention and love too. We all want to feel the help from Aunt Susan. I thought that was the most gratifying event in this show. I walked away thinking how words of wisdom can heal the soul!