Brothers get a second chance to heal the wounds of childhood in ‘The Boys Room.’

After a two-year hiatus brought about by the pandemic, Gremlin Theatre will return to the stage on November 4 with a drama about two brothers who return to their childhood home to escape the struggles of adulthood.

Written by Joel Drake Johnson, The Boys Room is a study of both comedy and pathos as the brothers move back in with their mother. Artistic director Peter Hansen said the play is typical of the Gremlin’s oeuvre—an original drama largely unknown except for its inaugural production in Chicago a decade ago.

“I like either new plays that nobody’s heard of or old plays that nobody’s heard of and then once in a while a play that everyone’s heard of,” Hansen said. “This is a good play that feels a lot more timely than it did a few years ago. When I think of where we are in society right now, there’s a crisis of being a grownup, and this play is about that.”

A resident of Macalester-Groveland, Hansen plays the younger brother, Tim, a middle-aged man whose job, marriage and life have all fallen apart. Dan Hopman plays the older brother, Ron, whose wife has cancer and who is hoping to escape the consequences of that disease.

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Ron (played by Dan Hopman) stands above his defeated brother, Tim, (Peter Christian Hansen) during a rehearsal for Gremlin Theatre’s production of 'The Boys Room.' Photo by Brad Stauffer

“Nobody can say ‘I love you’ in the play,” Hansen said. “As human beings, we let people down. We need to rebuild relationships. We have to recover from the stupid things we do. But our lives are interwoven, and we do find a way.”

 

‘The Boys Room’ is about “living in a family” and finding out “how hard it can be to get people to love one another,” Kelsey said.

The Boys Room is directed by Brian Balcom, a Chicago resident with whom Hansen has often collaborated. In fact, Balcom is the one who suggested the play to Hansen.

 

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Lucy Farrell, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, plays Ron’s teenage daughter, Roann, who shows up at her grandmother’s home to ask him when he plans to return to their home.

Linda Kelsey plays the brothers’ mother, Susan. A Merriam Park resident, Kelsey starred as Billie Newman in the 1970s television show “Lou Grant,” a role for which she received three Golden Globe and five Primetime Emmy nominations.

Through the lens of the pandemic.

Kelsey views The Boys Room partly through the lens of the pandemic when many adult children came home to live with their parents. “A lot of families had to live intergenerationally because of the circumstances,” she said. “The adult children may have been visiting their parents and couldn’t go home during the lockdown. People who never expected to be living together ended up in the same house.”

Kelsey described her character as “complicated” with a problematic personality shaped by events that are revealed over the course of the play. The Boys Room is about “living in a family” and finding out “how hard it can be to get people to love one another,” she said.

It has been two years since Kelsey has acted in theater, and she is happy to be performing. “It’s a joy,” she said. “I feel at home again, being with actors, working on stage and having deep discussions about the characters we play and what the play is about. It’s what I love to do.”

Surviving COVID-19.

Keeping the Gremlin going through the COVID era was challenging, Hansen said. He wrote three different business plans during the lockdown, considering what to do during the first four months, the first eight months and then a year afterward, and he followed all three of them.

The Gremlin’s supporters stepped up to help the theater through the initial shock of the shutdown. “They helped us in our time of need, and that was beautiful,” Hansen said. Then an audiovisual company agreed to lease the Gremlin’s space. The company, Avex, turned the theater into a production studio for online events. “They helped us keep the lights on, and we helped them transition to a slightly different business model,” he said. “We were lucky.”

The Gremlin secured an economic injury disaster loan as well as a grant from the state of Minnesota’s Save Our Stages program. In January, the theater reopened its stage for other companies, including Dark & Stormy Productions and its presentation of God of Carnage earlier this year with Hansen in the cast.

A four-weekend run.

Though the Gremlin’s schedule is getting back to normal, the theater’s finances may be in more peril today than during the two years of COVID. Avex has moved on to a new location, and “we’re losing more money now than last year,” Hansen said.

The Boys Room will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays from November 4-27 on the stage at 550 N. Vandalia St. Tickets are $32, $28 for seniors, half price for patrons under age 30. For reservations, call 1-888-718-4253 or visit gremlintheatre.org.

— Frank Jossi

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Susan (played by Linda Kelsey) consoles her granddaughter Roann (Lucy Farrell) in rehearsal for "The Boys Room," opening November 4 at Gremlin Theatre. Photo by Brad Stauffer

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