“Your Best One,” which is playing at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, through February 9, is the kind of play that almost makes you long for the days when theater was not only about making huge profits.
Once upon a time, a play about nice people overcoming their flaws could run for a season. It might even cover expenses and maybe make a small profit. It would provide a couple of hours of relief from dreary lives. You forgot about those plays hours after leaving the theater, but they had value.
“Your Best One” at Capital Rep, is that kind of play. It’s filled with family and personal crisis, but their problems do not breed dysfunction. The characters have flaws and their behavior has caused hurt, yet all are capable of forgiveness. Even gruff siblings who seem not to like each other each other, have love in their hearts.
It’s so optimistic that you believe that even people with incurable diseases might be cured. If not, you just know their death scenes will be filled with joyous memories. It’s a play where miraculous recoveries are possible, but even a stage death make you feel OK because it is a celebration of a life well-lived.
“Your Best One” is a classic example of plays that thrive on unrealistic optimism. It’s filled with characters with each person nicer than the other. Tragedy looms as one central character, the sainted David, who eight years after adopting a damaged street kid and turning his life around, is diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas.
David’s former lover, Richard, a doctor who is almost 30 years older than David, hears about David’s plight and returns to offer aid to the man he deserted. He even bonds with David’s son, 15 year old Josh, whose adoption caused Richard to leave in the first place.
Because this synopsis is starting to sound too sappy and sentimental, I will not go into detail about the young theater-nerd Josh - who is old beyond his years. I won’t describe the problems of Robert’s sister Laura, or the sad life of Oscar, Robert’s crotchety father, who has the proverbial heart of gold.
But I must point out their inclusion give playwright Meridith Friedman a chance to show her comic chops. They provide the play great relief from the seriousness of the relationship between David and Richard. And though both Michael McCorry Rose as David and James Lloyd Reynolds as Richard create extremely likeable and relaxed individuals, the play would tedious without the contrariness of the supporting players.
Kate Weatherhead as Laura has a gift for delivering a comic line, made better with her delicious pauses. Lenny Wolpe is the definition of a professional character actor. His work as the father Oscar is unobtrusive, effortless and always on the mark. Local actor, Jake Goodman, is too good to believe that he is only a teenager. He has a bright future ahead of him.
If you have ever wondered what a director contributes to a production, “Your Best One” is a perfect lesson. Gordon Greenberg is able to take shallow characters and guide the actors to make them look dignified and honorable. He uses the comic skills of the others to support, rather than upstage a situation. In other worlds he finds balance to a piece that in lesser hands might be maudlin and/or silly.
Sad to say, he doesn’t totally save the night. The play has more than its fair share of holes, starting with an absence of depth of feeling. It should only run for about 100-minutes, but it’s given an intermission, which makes the last 10 minutes or so, seem forced and fidgety as the night starts to close in to two hours with little dramatic substance happening on stage.
Greenberg and a cast of fine actors not only cover the flaws in “Your Best One,” their work makes you realize that Friedman has many gifts as a writer. My hope is her next venture is better suited for the theater than it is for Lifetime television. My advice to her is: Meridith, it’s OK to write about characters who aren’t nice.
“Your Best One,” Capital Repertory Theatre Albany. Through February 9. For tickets and schedule information call 518-445-7469 or go to capitalrep.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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