Theater Review: The Herd at Steppenwolf Theatre

Theater Review: The Herd at Steppenwolf Theatre
(left to right) Andrey Francis (Claire), Cliff Chamberlain (Mark), and ensemble members Francis Guinan (Ian), Lois Smith (Patricia) and John Mahoney (Brian). Photo: Michael Brosilow.

Children can be horribly ungrateful cunts,”


Life isn’t always a walk in the park as we quickly discover when we drop by a three generation, family get-together in Oliver-award winning actor Rory Kinnear’s, smart comic drama,  The Herd, now making its U.S. premiere at Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre.

The comfortably middle-class family has gathered in the suburban London home of the family matriarch, Carol (Molly Regan). Carol, is a stress-filled mother whose life has turned into a full time obsession as she has pretty much given up everything to care for her severely disabled son, Andy.

Andy whose mental age is approximately 12 months is about to turn 21. As the show opens Carol is busily trying to make everything just perfect for a small family party that includes Andy’s 33-year-old sister, Claire (Audrey Francis), and his maternal grandparents, Brian (John Mahoney) and Patricia (Lois Smith). While the guests gather in the living room. Carol continues to stress out about everything.

As the group awaits the arrival of Andy, who will be coming with his caretaker, they learn that there will be another guest, Claire’s boyfriend, Mark (Cliff Chamberlain).  Although their relationship has been going on for sometime, Claire has kept it a secret due to her insecurity about relationships in general.

Another unexpected and unwelcome guest, Andy’s father, Ian (Francis Guinan), who abandoned the family years ago because he couldn’t deal with Andy’s disability, shows up at the door–only to have it slammed in his face before he eventually manages to join the group.

The Herd tackles a lot in its under 2-hour, no intermission show.  Kinnear’s characters are all people with real needs, feelings and conflicts. The play centers around how a special needs child can effect the structure of a family.

In this case, Carol who is obsessed with trying to do the right thing for Andy emotionally neglects the rest of her family.  This creates major dysfunction leading to divorce, alienation, hate and guilt.

Now that the family has gathered one more time, all these past feeling are brought to the surface. Kinnear’s script deftly brings this out with wit and wisdom. Director Frank Galati has perfected the art of placing each actor where they belong to achieve maximum impact.

Designer Walt Spangler’s amazingly detailed London home, is the perfect backdrop for the action.

John Mahoney plays the spoons. Photo: Michael Brosilow

John Mahoney plays the spoons. Photo: Michael Brosilow

Veteran actors Mahoney and Smith are a delight to watch as they hold nothing back. They deliver their lines with precision–hitting the target every time.  Regan is wound as tight as a drum, often venting her frustrations through a series of f-words. While her daughter, Claire tries to separate herself from the chaos around her but can’t avoid her inner-chaos.  Claire’s boyfriend, Chamberlain brings a needed outside eye and a sense of humor to the battling family.

Interestingly, it is through Guinan, the man who abandoned the family and is now trying to reconnect, that the pent up feelings from the past begin to unravel. As the play continues we are able to see inside the soul of each of the characters–all good people but all suffering from the haunting presence of Andy even when he is not there.

The Herd is powerful, touching, thought-provoking, and extraordinary in the way that it captivates the human spirit.  The play hits home on many levels with its frankness. This one will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Tickets and information:

Tickets: ($20 – $86) are available online or through Audience Services (1650 N Halsted St), 312-335-1650

Run: Now through June 7, 2015

Where: Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St).

Running time: 100 minutes

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 4)

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