Kitchen Sink drama with an American accent – Review

‘Utility’ opened at the Orange Tree theatre on 1 June and I would recommend it, as long as you don’t see theatre as the place to go to have your spirits lifted, to get you through the daily grind.

For ‘Utility’ is all about the daily grind. Young mother Amber is juggling two nearly full-time jobs and three kids. ‘Her on-again, off-again husband Chris is eternally optimistic and charming as hell, but rarely employed. The house is falling apart and Amber has an eight-year old’s birthday party to plan’.

Like the British sixties ‘kitchen sink’ genre, this new play by Emily Schwend, which won the Yale Drama Prize 2016, deals with that moment when the joie de vivre of youth becomes buried by the realisation that the daily grind is all there is and all there is likely to be. “Like I gotta lose just about everything I used to like about myself just so I can keep shit even halfway decent for everyone else around here” says Amber.

Literally based around the kitchen sink, with the children not on stage but present throughout as they prepare for the party, there’s a touch of the Tennessee Williams about it, with the long smoke filled contemplative pauses and insufferable heat. The electricity gives out as the useless husband has forgotten to pay the bill, so there’s no air con and they have to take the party food over to her mother’s so it doesn’t get spoiled.

I’m not sure which is more depressing, that the mother thinks Amber’s well-intentioned but rather wet husband is ‘a good man, to hang on to’ just because he’s present and trying, or that she’s become inured to his unfaithulness. The most telling line is when she’s weighing up whether it’s really worth having him around. Without him at least she’d know she had to do it all herself and not have to put up with someone who says he’ll do things, does them badly and just makes life more difficult.

This is the European premiere of the work of one of America’s most exciting emerging playwrights. If you enjoy social realism, go and see it. ‘Utility’ is on at the Orange Tree theatre until 7 July.