The bond that forms from close quarters is a unique and powerful phenomenon. People with whom you might otherwise never engage become close compatriots simply by virtue of proximity. College roommates, summer camp cabin mates, office cube mates, neighbors — this is where life-long friends are often formed. Add in the elements of a shared struggle and common purpose, and you’ve got yourself an extended family.
In WRENS, Rivendell Theatre’s powerful remount of a Anne McGravie’s 1996 play, a group of seven young English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish women are holed up in a rickety bunker (claustrophobically recreated by scenic designer Joanna Iwanicka) as they serve as members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS, or WRENS) during the tail end of World War II.
Having been cooped up for so long, tensions are naturally high, and the bickering and gossip flies fast and fierce. But when the unspeakable happens to one of them, their bond is quickly tested — do they stick together to support their fellow WREN, even if it means certain undesirable consequences, or do they turn the other cheek and wait out the storm?
What makes this play so engaging is that it’s steeped in credibility. McGravie, who served as a WREN for two years during WWII, captures a time when women, for the first time in their lives, were able to play a role relatively equal to that of men. True, they weren’t treated equally, but, due to the “all hands on deck” spirit of the war, they were tasked with many of the same duties men would normally undertake. But with the war now ending, lives and roles would slip back into pre-war patterns. Or would they? The thrill of peacetime becomes tempered by the sobering reality of the uncertain.
But this production’s excellence doesn’t just stem from the clear-eyed writing. The nuanced work by, from my vantage point, one of the best ensemble casts on any Chicago stage at the moment makes this remount a must-see.
“WRENS” plays through October 13 at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. More info here >