Saturday, November 07, 2009

For Better

A delightful look at romance in the cyber age at Actors’ Summit

Playwright Eric Coble, whose play ‘FOR BETTER’ is getting its regional premiere at Actors’ Summit, is a satirist whose weird sense of humor allows him to hone in on peculiar social phenomena and take them to the extremes of absurdity. Coble asks such questions as: are up-scale parents interested in getting their child into the “correct” school, willing to kill another kid for the institutions last opening (‘BRIGHT IDEA’)? Or, to what extremes will someone go on a reality show to win a million dollars, such as agreeing to commit suicide using a method decided upon by the viewers (‘THE DEAD GUY’)?

Building on the premise that an entire generation of thirty-somethings have been brought up on email, instant messaging, cell phones and texting, Coble ponders whether a woman can develop a relationship on-line, almost never meet the guy face-to-face, accept his proposal for marriage, get her wedding ring via a FedEx delivery, and . . . (you’ll have to go see the show to find out what the “and” is all about).

At the center of non-stop talking (mostly electronic, of course) is Karen, who spends time with her fiancé Max (a character who never appears on stage) via wireless media.

Her electronically-challenged father, Wally, can't understand how to operate his TiVo, let alone understand his daughter’s virtual on-again, off-again engagement.

Her older sister, Francine, criticizes her rashness, even though she met her husband through an online dating service and their relationship has about as much passion as the electronic instruments they constantly depend on.

Coble, who admits to having only one cell phone for his entire family, observed those around him and states that he found “people’s emotional lives were really coming to depend on our cell phones and emails to keep us connected and sane as we became new hunter/gatherers. And I wanted to write a sweet romantic comedy about that.” Coble succeeded.

Though the script looks easy to stage, it isn’t. A good production depends on a quick pick up of line cues, actors all talking at the same time while insuring each idea is understood, making the characters real even though they are ridiculous, and rapid pacing.

The Actor’s Summit production, under the direction of A. Neil Thackaberry, accomplishes all the “must does.”

Though at times she is a little shrill, Constance Thackaberry, is in a proper state of angst as Karen. As Francine, Karen’s sister, Sally Groth proves again that she is very good at being uptight, frustrated and bitchy. Larry Seman basically steals the show as the widowed father. Most of the “mature’ audience totally understood his frustrations of living in an electronic world with only a fleeting knowledge of the technical language, let alone having the skills to navigate the terrain. Keith Stevens as Francine’s husband, and Tony Zanoni, as the Verizon man who travels the world asking, “Can you hear me now?” are on the mark. Their cyber drunk scene is hysterical. Jen Walker, Francine’s friend Lizzie, develops her role well.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: FOR BETTER is a delightful script which is given a fun production at Actors’ Summit. If you want to thoroughly enjoy yourself, put down your cell, turn off the computer, jump into your hybrid Prius, and set your Garmin to get you to 86 Owen Brown Street in Hudson. Think of it this way…you can text your 500 best cyber friends at intermission and tell them what a good time you are having.