Tales From The O'Neill: Evanston: A Rare Comedy Overview

By Sophia Saifi
August 1, 2013

Playbill.com offers an inside look at Evanston: A Rare Comedy, part of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwright Conference. 



Michael Yates Crowley's play, Evanston: A Rare Comedy is a commentary on the farcical nature of suburbia and the homogenization of the American way of life. 

Evanston looks at the awkward discomfort that arrises when different ranks of society collide.

The uncomfortable friction of parallel lives colliding creates a fire of distress that simmers throughout the play, unsettling lives and unleashing chaos. 

Crowley is currently a member of the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at Juilliard. Although based in New York, Crowley has spent much of his childhood in the Chicago suburb of Evanston.

Crowley found the namesake of his play to be one where "all the mums go to spinning class and all the dads go to work in the city."

In a way, Evanston's cookie-cutter world was too sanitary, almost artificial, and Crowley said he is interested in the "way that people choose not to see things and it's [Evanston] very segregated in terms of race and income and class."

Evanston: A Rare Comedy was inspired by a series of letters that Crowley wrote to his friend serving in Iraq. In the process of writing, the letters had an "element of it being almost like a prayer," a theme that Crowley was keen to explore.

Themes of prayer and reflection are infused throughout the play. Psalm 137 drifts in and out of the script in the form of the Rastafarian melody of the song "Rivers of Babylon," while modern spirituality is addressed by the send up of Elizabeth Gilbert's novel "Eat, Pray, Love."

Evanston follows the story of suburban women, the book club that brings them together and the fraught relationships with their families that threaten to destroy their pristine existence.

Wendy C. Goldberg, artistic director of the conference, lauded Crowley, saying, "He represents my artist who is truly still in school. I read the first two pages of this play and I thought we had a brilliant comedic voice here."

The humor that arises from the terribly tragic is what drives the story that Crowley has woven. It's discomfiting and Crowley likes it that way.

"If half the audience is laughing and half the audience is uncomfortable, then I feel like I’m doing my job," elaborated Crowley. "It is not a lighthearted farce where you want belly laughs."

While the financial crisis rages on in the outside world, Crowley's Evanston fights to remain immune, with its inhabitants reeling from the chaos that pops the bubble of their perfect existence. 

"People in this town either give comfort or receive comfort," said Crowley. "There is this glacial freeze over all these people and their interactions with each other and they are looking for this moment of thawing and warmth and comfort and not being able to find it."

Evanston: A Rare Comedy was directed by Michael Rau with a cast that included Anna Margaret Hollyman, Kate MacCluggage, Eva Kaminsky, James Lloyd Reynolds, Will Rogers, Ronete Levenson and Crystal Lucas-Perry.