A heartland-set ensemble serio-comedy about a group of women in a small Illinois town, “Float” doesn’t deliver surprises but generates a good deal of down-home charm. It comes off as an apple pie of a play – you’ve tasted it all before, but the unchallenging familiarity becomes part of its appeal.
Playwright Patricia Kane has provided the actors with a plethora of stage business, and a set designer with a unique challenge. During the course of a breezy two acts, the members of the local women’s club assemble and disassemble a parade float. Designer John Musial impressively transforms the black-box space into a barn with the use of corrugated steel on the walls, and his float features a Velcro-heavy gazebo that must come together appropriately timed with the dialogue.
There’s actually some entertainment value in watching the logistics of this, but for the most part it gives the actors lots to do while they banter and occasionally battle. Depicting what it’s like to live in a small town, the play gradually exposes the women’s secrets – the budding lesbian relationship between the divorced Marty (Adrianne Curry) and the emotionally vulnerable Luce (Amy Matheny), as well as the discovered possibility that struggling realtor Char (Rengin Altay) might be having an affair with another member’s husband.
The stellar cast is anchored by Chicago veterans Wendy Robie, whose character must confront the most immediate personal crisis, and Peggy Roeder, who quite brilliantly generates consistent laughs as the eager gossip with a terrible singing voice and a habit of supervising more than helping.
Director Leslie Buxbaum Danzig establishes the right light tone to allow for the contained emotional drama as well as Kane’s frequent and funny one-liners. After all, this is a town where the secrets are not especially dark, and the catalyst for most of the conversation and contemplation is comic. A local pastor has been caught watching porn in his church office, and the scandal provides the women an easy opportunity to reveal their own views on religion, marriage and the general act of judging others.
The play has its clunky transitions and could definitely use more thematic heft; the float itself seems like it’s supposed to be a metaphor for something other than the work’s own lightness, but it’s unclear what that is, and the philosophical content exists only at the level of a religious quotation book. Still, Kane has a clear affection for these characters, and the actors in this About Face Theater production make it all sincere and enjoyable.
“Float” has mainstream commercial potential at least at the regional level, and it even has possibilities as a film, since many of the most dramatically interesting events, and the funniest ones, too, are by necessity described here rather than shown.