There’s no place like Naperville in Mat Smart’s suburban meditation on community and connection.
Playwright Mat Smart grew up in Naperville, Illinois, and he wrings a surprising amount of metaphor out of the western suburb’s history in this charming 2014 piece, set entirely in a Caribou Coffee shop there. The patrons include Anne (Abby Pierce), flailing from the collapse of her marriage and desperately seeking to create something meaningful; Candice (Laura T. Fisher), a Caribou regular newly blinded by a home accident and being tended to by her son Howard (Mike Tepeli), who turns out to have been a high school classmate of Anne’s; and Roy (Charlie Strater), an obsequious oddball whose friendliness toward Candice raises Howard’s hackles.
The quirks of Smart’s characters and contrivances of his plot can feel overly diagrammed if you look at them too closely, but in Theater Wit’s Chicago premiere, a warm and carefully attuned cast (which also includes Andrew Jessop as the nervous new store manager) achieve a balanced brew. I found myself reminded of Griffin Theatre’s 2015 production of Samuel D. Hunter’s Pocatello, another ensemble portrait of an accidental community in a very precisely rendered small-town space; not coincidentally, Joe Schermoly designed both that show’s quasi–Olive Garden and Naperville’s on-the-money Caribou, which holds a few surprises. For all its writerly mannerisms, Smart’s play is a loving appreciation of an underappreciated place to call home.
Theater Wit. By Mat Smart. Directed by Jeremy Wechsler. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins; no intermission.