Junior Jackson Margolis and his brother, freshman Dylan, regularly review plays presented by the B Street Theatre, which is now part of The Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts and is located at 2700 Capitol Avenue.
On Aug. 10 they saw Basil Kreimendahl’s “We’re Gonna Be Okay,” which premiered in 2017 at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, and has a cast of six.
Though I studied the Cuban Missile Crisis last year in history class and understood the rising tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, not only did I overlook the fear suffocating many American citizens in the early ’60s, but I was also oblivious to it.
I grasped the general idea: we were on the brink of nuclear warfare, and it was scary. But until experiencing Kreimendahl’s “We’re Gonna Be Okay,” I didn’t fully comprehend the severity and unease of the situation for the average, good American samaritan.
But Kreimendahl and director Buck Busfield pull audiences into the conflict of the time period through emotional dialogue, relatable characters and a plot that echos the tensions and issues of today.
The show begins by introducing two families who are neighbors by chance and friends by choice – at least that’s what Efran (Dave Pierni), a talkative, middle-aged father with control issues, believes.
Though Efran loves his country – so much so he becomes sentimental while listening to the “Star Spangled Banner” – he doubts that Washington is looking out for everyday citizens. Thus, he believes that, due to rising tensions with the Soviet Union, he must take his family and neighbors’ survival into his own hands. So with the help of his mor serious, blue-collar neighbor, Sul (Jason Kuykendall), he sets off to dig a hole in his backyard to build a fallout shelter.
To add to the drama, while Efran’s crafty and forward-thinking wife, Leena (Elisabeth Nunziato,) who also played Martha – the lead in Dylan’s and my first and favorite B Street show “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” – is against the idea, Sul’s friendly and cooperative wife, Mag (Dana Brooke), believes the shelter is necessary for survival.
And what better way for the audience – and the two families – to know each other than by building a shelter and discussing spirit animals?
The show also introduces Efran and Leena’s teenage son, Jake (Doug Harris), a baseball fanatic with a secret, and Sul and Mag’s daughter, Deanna (Stephanie Altholz), a quirky adolescent who struggles with the word “normal.”
But once the less-than-perfect shelter is built and the two families move in, the conflicts buried deep inside each character begin to uncoil. This creates conflicts over power, solution, sexuality, gender equality, safety and the future.
Jackson: So what did you think, big brother?
Dylan: I’m not your big broth –
J: Moving on. Who was your favorite character?
D: I didn’t have one.
J: What a great answer. OK, well, mine was Efran. Not only was his character the most developed, but Pierni’s acting was very convincing. Occasionally he would go on long tangents about his internal turmoil, which simply captivated me.
D: I’m glad that he captivated you.
J: Very funny. OK, even though I wasn’t necessarily rooting for him, and I didn’t even really like him at all, Pierni’s energy and emotion really showed Efran’s anxiety with the future.
D: Yes, I really was able to see the clear transition in act one, where Efran was the main person backing building the bomb shelter, to act two, where he really began losing his marbles.
J: Part of that was due to the intense and awful relationship he had created with his son.
D: Yeah, I was really waiting for the son to stand up to him.
J: But does he? To find out, you must see the show.
D: What was that?
J: OK, moving on again. Dylan, my boy, what did you think of the blocking and directing?
D: Oh, it was pretty good.
J: Do you have anything else to say about it?
D: It was pretty good – Actually, I do.
J: What is it?
D: This show is not for a younger audience.
J: Good point. There were certain sexual discovery scenes that I would not recommend a child to see.
D: Even I was a little uncomfortable at parts.
J: Thanks for sharing.
D: You’re welcome.
J: Well, the show was also for an older audience. There were several jokes that made me chuckle slightly, but everyone else, (who is much older,) was just dying.
D: Especially the woman three seats to the right of me.
J: You know who you are, Gretchen.
D: Don’t put that in. That’s the most “Jackson” writing ever.
D: OK, Jackson, I have a question for you.
J: Shoot me (figuratively).
D: What do you think was the main message of the show?
J: Unity under disaster and the effect that it has on a community. The writer really did a way better than “OK” job of putting the audience in the middle of one of the greatest crises in American history. And in the first act. Hold on, I’ve talked enough. What did you think about the first act?
D: I liked the second one better.
J: OK, that’s not about the first act.
D: Wait, you’ll see. I thought that the second act was better than the first act.
J: Such a comedian. Anyway, my favorite thing about the first act was the relationship that developed between Efran and Sul. At the start of the act, Efran was trying to convince Sul to be his friend and to help him build the bomb shelter – and by the end of the act, Efran’s wish has come true. Sul is both a great friend and has helped Efran with his nearly finished bomb shelter between their properties.
D: I don’t think you breathed once that whole time.
J: Well, that’s why I’m the professional.
D: Well, I really liked how none of the characters were either the hero or the villain. Each character had moments where they said something that I either agreed with or didn’t.
J: For example, Efran.
D: Why do you only talk about Efra –
J: Well, in the first act, I was rooting for him to convince the other of the benefits of the bomb shelter, but in the second act, I started to root against him when he was mentally aggressive to his son.
D: Good example.
J: What was your favorite part, Dillon.
D: Please don’t spell my name like “Dillon” in your article.
J: OK. Well, I really enjoyed the scene near the end of the show where Leena, Efran’s wife, is able to bring up the timeless – and also modern – issue of feminism through burning a particular clothing item.
D: Three guesses which.
J: From Leena’s defiant action in the bomb shelter, you could really see how challenging it is for her to deal with her husband and, though it’s against Efran’s request, how she wants to become a teacher.
D: I liked the set.
J: That wasn’t off-topic at all.
D: I thought the set was clever because the crew transformed it during intermission. In the first act, the houses on stage created a very suburban feel, and the set in the second act (while they were in the shelter) had a very dark and dismal underground feel.
J: Another cool thing about the show is that even though it took place in the early ’60s, the issues the show discusses are still current dilemmas.
D: And relate to today.
J: You said it, Dylan. What was your favorite element of the show?
D: How it made me think about the possibility of the end of the world.
J: That was your favorite thing?
D: OK, I mean that it was the most interesting part.
J: You’re right. You know, we get so caught up in our everyday lives that we neglect the possibility of nuclear warfare.
D: Well said.
J: And I think that one of the strongest parts of the play is how the writer was able to show how, in a world-ending crisis, some people want to find a solution, while others give up, and some even go insane.
D: And “We’re Gonna Be Okay” perfectly shows all of these different directions.
J: OK, when I see a show, I want to walk away saying, “That made me think.”
D: You always say that.
J: Well, it’s true. And based on this gripping and almost edgy ending, I couldn’t help but ponder how society was – and would be – affected by a nuclear attack.
D: It wasn’t that gripping.
J: I disagree. Not only was there somewhat of an unexpected twist at the end, but the ending also makes the show really come full circle with the theme of unity under disaster.
D: Sure, but I still got a little bored at times. The dialogue would occasionally go on and on, leading me to lose interest in the overall plot.
J: So what did you think of the plo –
D: Well, there were sections of the plot that were unneeded. There were several unresolved issues between Efran and Jake that I would have prefered to be solved.
J: See, I liked walking out of the theatre uneasy and unsure of what would happen physically and emotionally between the two of them.
D: You’re dumb.
J: Thanks. Well, did you want them to build the fort?
D: I didn’t really care. I knew it was going to happen. I also didn’t like how it contradicted what actually happened during –
J: Let’s not give away too much. All that being said, how many stars would you give it?
D: Two-and-a-half out of four. It didn’t really entertain me all that much. At least the second half had some intense parts, but I was never really on the edge of my seat.
J: Well I’m going to give it a three-and-a-half.
D: You give everything a three-and-a-half.
J: If it’s a good show that keeps my interest, then
D: There can’t be a single part that I thought was boring if I’m going to give it a three-and-a-half or a four.
J: Geez – tough critic. I’m not giving it quite a four because some of the dialogue was a little repetitive, and there were a few occasions where the show didn’t keep my interest.
D: Is there anything that you’ve seen that you’d give a four?
J: Let me think for a second. Maybe “West Side Story” at Music Circus in 2015, but other than that, I don’t know.
D: That was a rhetorical question.
J: … Anyway, would you recommend this to a high school student?
D: Maybe. But only if you’re really into theatre and are a junior or a senior.
J: Overall, it was a good show. And we agree on a three, and that’s not bad.
D: That’s fair. The show is OK, and you’re gonna be “Okay” watching it.
The show runs from Aug. 9 – Sep. 7, Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets are $27-$39.