Marian Theatre Guild’s “Birthday Candles” – Review by Carol Moore

**** Highly Recommended The Marian Theatre Guild production of Birthday Candles is a definite must-see. Kudos to Susan Bobos on her tour de force performance. I don’t mind telling you that this beautiful play made me laugh and moved me to tears. It’s a shame that MTG only does four performances of their plays. This one deserves more! 4 BIG Spotlights

Birthday Candles is a series of living snapshots, taken on Ernestine Ashworth’s birthdays – from age 17 to over 100. Each and every birthday, Ernestine (Susan Bobos) bakes the same cake. The snapshots aren’t consecutive, but there are enough to draw a picture of her life, her loves and her sorrows. It’s a very personal play and I think everyone in the audience was moved.

Aside from Bobos and Kevin Sherman, who plays her life-long friend Kenneth, the cast all play multiple parts – Ernestine’s mom, her husband, her children, her grandchildren and a spouse or two. They are: Olivia Rhodehamel (Alice/Madeline/Ernie), Elliot Bibat (Matt/William), Matthew Seiluns (Billy/John), and Kira C. Lisle (Joan/Alex/Beth).

The play opens on Ernestine’s 17th birthday, when she’s supposed to be helping her mother, Alice bake her cake. Instead, she’s obsessed by her small part of the universe and even more important, the tryouts for the school play, a slightly altered Shakespeare classic, Queen Lear. Her mom insists that she take a minute to breathe in the moment.

On her 18th birthday, she’s just lost her mom, so she’s baking her own cake when Kenneth drops in with a gift and asks her to the prom. She turns him down, saying she’s not going. She’s firm on that until Matt asks. She tells him yes, but only on the understanding that they’re just friends because she has dreams.

Skipping a few years, we learn she married Matt and stayed in the same house in the same neighborhood, only now she has a son, Billy and a daughter, Madeline. Billy’s an athlete, Maddie has mental health issues.

Highlights & lowlights: One birthday everyone is sad because Madeline overdosed. On another, Billy brings a very nervous Joan home and announces he’s going to marry her. Another birthday, Billy and Joan have a new baby. On another, Ernestine learns that Matt cheated on her.

On every birthday, she makes the same cake in exactly the same way. As her family rush in and rush out, she insists they stop and take in the moment. The constant in her life is geeky Kenneth – and his gift, Antman, the goldfish – who lives on as Antman the 2nd, 4th, 35th, 71st and so on.

Kudos to Director Morgan McCabe for a job well done. By the way, I loved Martin A. Dybel’s beautiful set, a family kitchen with slamming screen doors and a working oven.

Birthday Candles was written by Noah Haidle. It premiered in Detroit in 2018 and was scheduled for Broadway in 2020 but was delayed for two years due to the pandemic. It finally opened on Broadway in 2022. It had its Chicago area premiere at Northlight Theatre in Skokie in 2023.

There are just two performances left of Birthday Candles, April 26th at 7:30 pm and April 27th at 3:00 pm. Marian Theatre Guild performs in the Marian Memorial Auditorium, St. John the Baptist School, 119th Street and Lincoln Avenue, Whiting. FYI (219) 473-0713.