Anyone who has weathered a long-term relationship will relate to the passion and struggles in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of Audrey Cefaly’s The Gulf, directed by Megan Carney. Kendra and Betty fish in a tiny boat in the Alabama flats. Six years into their relationship, with their lives taking different directions, they struggle to retain their original desire. The motor dies, tempers flare, and the predictable arc of a relationship drama unfolds. (If you introduce water in act one, someone gets thrown in by act three.)
Sure, the title is a smack-on-the-head metaphor, and the double entendre “are we stuck?” might make eyes roll. Yet Cefaly’s sharp and witty script in Carney’s capable hands provides an intense and often funny look at a relationship struggling to survive like a simile about a fish. The Gulf is an enjoyable ride, rife with silly anecdotes, hilarious relationship quibbles, and genuine moments of honest indignation, enhanced by the theater-in-the-round seating and a rotating boat set (designed by Joe Schermoly) that draws audiences into the action.
Kelli Simpkins (Kendra) and Deanna Myers (Betty) are both outstanding, their engaging physicality perfectly capturing the nuance of a couple who harbor unexpressed resentments in a relationship buoyed by longing. Kendra loves fishing, sports, and beer; she is handy, especially at masking her feelings. Betty is emotional and expressive; she has plans and wants to pull Kendra along. But Kendra’s tough, angry exterior masks a sensitive soul looking to connect, hurt by Betty’s past infidelities. Simpkins and Myers land a winning catch. v