The Best of Everything
nytheatre.com review by Mary Notari
October 2, 2012
The Best of Everything had me at hello – or, as it was in this case, goodbye. The show opens with a stylized piece of exposition that involves a toy boat leaving from an imaginary dock and sets the stage for a captivating production on a surprisingly relevant set of mid-century American office furniture.
Everything about this show is impeccable. What first stands out is the design - and by design I don’t just mean the set, but also the sound, costume, sound, and lighting and how they all fit together seamlessly with the actors and some truly imaginative staging. It is wonderfully mid-century in its look and feel – as are the characters and the dialogue of course. From the moment our heroine waves good bye to her little toy boat – a talisman she carries with her throughout the years, hidden amongst her files and manuscripts at Fabian Publishing – the show is sincere.
It would be so tempting, judging from the source material, to veer into camp with this production. But the superb acting across the board not only avoids caricature and self-awareness (Ha-ha, look we’re in the 50’s!), but brings out the humanity in every character. Grounding the audience from the very start and carrying us through the whirlwind of her life on her perfectly tailored shoulders is Sarah Wilson as Caroline. Alicia Sable’s astounding journey as Caroline’s best friend, April, was also a joy to watch. This play has all the archetypes of an office (the gossip, the old maid, the tragic romantic, the smart aleck) and yet every inch of these women is human and nuanced. The cast’s performances made the increasing melodrama of their lives – or in some cases the increasing drudgery – anything but. Especially noteworthy was Tom O’Keefe’s turn as every male in New York City – minus a few cardboard cut-outs –who bounded onto the stage after every quick change a fully formed new man.
Speaking of cardboard cut-outs, you’re going to love the office party dance number.
Full disclosure: I came into The Best of Everything skeptical. Can women really have it all? I say: who the hell cares? Marriage doesn’t define me and, like others in the feminist/queer/ally community, I am deeply skeptical that all this recent fighting over marriage rights is the right conversation to be having about the fact that many Americans are effectively second-class citizens – including women. We’re still fighting those 1950’s gender norms and expectations, aren’t we folks?
That said: Props to director/playwright Julie Kramer and her collaborator, Amy Wilson. This show is 100% aware of that. Rather than saying all men are the same, Mr. O’Keefe’s characters and those cut-outs were a manifestation of the world that women have to create for themselves when they are excluded. A world embraced by Mary Agnes and Brenda, the office gossips; a world that is rejected by Miss Farrow, the successful but unmarried sole female editor; and a world that Caroline tries to straddle with varying success.
Not to be overlooked is some very precise direction that keeps the flow seamless in what could easily be a disjointed, campy series of vignettes. Kudos to sound designer Jill BC De Boff, as well, for keeping the momentum up during some potentially tricky scene changes – how can I get a copy of that soundtrack?
Rather than comment on the norms of a bygone era, The Best of Everything invites us into the world of typewriters and sexual harassment and by the end I’m left asking the same questions as our grandmothers: can anyone, man or woman, find both fulfillment and love? We’re still looking for those answers at the end of the show (perhaps we haven’t come as far as we think from those days). Will our heroes and heroines find the best of everything like Caroline’s man-child fiancé (Jordan Geiger) wishes her from the start without knowing what he’s saying? Within the frame of this story we won’t know. All we can hope for, as Caroline tells Mike Rice, an editor at Fabian Publishing, during a particularly hopeful moment, is to find someone conventional we can be unconventional with. In the end, we’re left only with our legacy be it our work, our families, or our bonds of friendship and camaraderie.