It might be hard for young people to imagine that, just a generation ago, gender roles were quite rigid. Women were responsible for cooking, cleaning and raising the kids. Men went to work to support the family financially.
Obviously, a lot's changed. That transformation is the focus of James Sherman's "Half and Half," in a production at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.
"Half and Half"★ ★ ½
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121, www.metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday, March 21 and 28 and April 4 and 11; 7 p.m. Saturday, March 22 and 29 and April 5 and 12; 3 p.m. Sunday, March 23 and April 6 and 13; 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 26; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 27 and April 3 and 10; and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 30
Running time: About 90 minutes, with intermission
Parking: Free parking on the street and in the nearby parking garage
Rating: For teens and older, contains mature subject matter
The play consists of two, one-scene acts. The first takes place in 1970, with a frustrated stay-at-home mom and a tuned-out working dad. The roles reverse in the second scene, set in 2005.
In both stories, a husband and wife fight in their kitchen over their relationship and their family roles.
The first act, the more dramatic of the two, centers on frenetic housewife Susan Grant (Julie Partyka), who longs to do more with her life than cook and clean. She secretly starts getting involved in environmental causes, women's liberation groups and even sees a psychiatrist. At one point, she bonds with her teenage daughter Lucy (Katie Hunter) over their stance on not wearing bras.
When Susan opens up to her husband, Stewart (Andrew Pond), about her evolving identity, he initially ignores her and later cuts down her confidence, delivering a few nasty zingers.
While the characters are exaggerated -- at some points a little too much -- the scene captures the fear and excitement women felt in the 1970s when they started entering the workforce in droves, and the strain the change put on their marriages and families.
Given the play's long dialogue, the most powerful moments come in the few silent pauses, when the audience gets a moment to digest a character's feelings. A first-act twist proves compelling and thought-provoking.
After intermission, the story fast forwards 35 years. Lucy Grant (Partyka) is now grown up, and she's a stressed-out, working mom. She's so consumed with work that she's neglected her mensch-y, stay-at-home writer husband, Jeremy (Pond), and teenage daughter, Katie (Hunter).
The second act feels more hollow than the first. Jeremy seems happy-go-lucky at first, but eventually starts to complain of feeling abandoned. Lucy brushes off his feelings, and the story bounces around from there.
But in doing so, the play misses an opportunity to explore the complex emotions and guilt of working moms and stay-at-home dads. Most working moms try to juggle it all, rather than focus solely on work. And they certainly don't sit at the breakfast table for 30 minutes, waiting for their husband to make them a frittata.
The comedic touches are more cute than funny, such as Pond's adorable dancing-while-cooking.
Both acts reference Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken," questioning the difference between the more and less traveled roads. It suggests neither road guarantees happiness, which, of course, is the play's point.
The script would have benefited from making the characters a little more dimensional -- revealing flickers of contentment amid the full-on misery. Still, "Half and Half" successfully brings controversial social issues to the stage with solid acting and a topical, relatable story.