Men have it easy, there’s no doubt about it. But not when they attempt to reassess their masculinity. Any dude willing to go down that road is often scoffed at for being a navel-gazing pantywaist or slammed as a privilege-clinging Neanderthal. So when playwright Ellen Fairey writes a show called “Support Group for Men,” it’s natural to think she’s out to give guys a good going over. Not quite.
The play, now onstage at The Goodman Theatre, does have its way with a group of regular Joes struggling to understand a new world order when it comes to sexual identity and interpersonal relationships, but it’s no finger-pointing corrective. Finding humor in their cluelessness and confusion, Fairey paints a sympathetic portrait of some easily recognizable types, who go on an unexpected and eye-opening journey when they gather in a Wrigleyville apartment to share what’s on their minds.
Fairey — a graduate of the School of the Art Institute who lived in Chicago for 23 years before relocating to California — hit on the idea for the play several years ago. “I was meeting men who all seemed to be in some kind of low-grade crisis,” says Fairey, whose “Graceland” earned the 2010 Jeff Award for Best New Work. “I was curious as to why, and I started thinking about how men heal or don’t heal, and what kind of resources they have or don’t have — the perceived cultural/emotional ‘restrictions’ of being a man.”
Fairey set the play in Chicago, where, she notes, “you naturally encounter a certain type of man — boisterous, friendly, well-meaning, grounded.” And while the uncertainty and discomfort expressed in the show stems from a male point of view, it’s not entirely gender specific. “A lot of it is about the invisibility that comes with aging in a world where things are changing so rapidly,” director Kimberly Senior says. “Ellen sees the humanity in everyone, and wants to celebrate the extraordinary in the ordinary. She puts a magnifying glass on some really beautiful people in our world — here in Chicago — who may be forgotten, or whose stories and complexities we may not think of. I am a five-foot-one, New York Jewish woman, but I have [something] in common with these guys: the desire to connect with other people.”
‘Support Group for Men’
Through July 29, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. For tickets (starting at $25), visit Goodmantheatre.org
Pictured at top: Ryan Kitley, Steve Wojtas and Elena Marisa Flores in a previous production of “Support Group for Men”