Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Family Dynamics Rebuilt in The Best We Could

The Best We Could (a family tragedy) is a thoughtful and entertaining play deconstructing myths around parenthood and responsibility. It doesn’t blow up those relationships, but it does reevaluate parental roles in the context of growing up and leaning into adult values.

Brain D. Coats and Aya Cash 

The Best We Could uses a father daughter cross country road trip to highlight the subtle changes in attitudes and roles. The outstanding cast starts with Aya Cash as the daughter, Ella, and Brian D. Coats as Marc, the father. The trip is proposed by Peg (Constance Shulman). Peg is Lou's wife and she is pushing to get him engaged in life again. Lou has lost his job at a biomedical research institute. He has become old man now struggling to find a job in his field. 

Marc and Peg depend on his income and so the job lose is devastating for the couple. On top of this, Brandy, the couple’s dog, dies. But the dog’s death does provide an opportunity to motivate Marc. Peg convinces him to fly out to the west coast to pick up his daughter and new dog, then drive back to New Jersey with the new dog. Separately Peg convinces her daughter that she must accompany her father because Marc is depressed and defeated. 

And so the trip begins with a slow reversal of roles, which progresses as the trip continues. Marc is a chatty and distracted man, interacting with strangers, much to Ella’s annoyance. Ella struggles to get him focused on the road, his job, or the sights, but nothing truly engages his attention until they hit Denver. In Denver Marc visits an old friend and colleague, Lou (Frank Wood). Lou’s company has an opening and Marc asks, more and more adamantly, for a job at the company. We realize there is more to his story as Marc gets desperate and will even take a lower paid and lower seniority job. Lou got his first big break with Marc and yet Lou seems hesitant to promise anything. 

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, Peg attempts to talk with Amanda (Maureen Sebastian). Amada, who seems obsessed with Zumba, declines to interrupt her workout to speak with Peg. This is where a sense of dread begins. Peg manically asks for Amada's help and is rebuffed repeatedly. Suddenly the reason that Marc was fired becomes even more murky.

When Marc loses out on Lou's job, Ella confronts Lou and demands to know why. Thus begins the slow revel as to what happened and the consequences. The story is obvious, but freshly told. The parental roles are now almost fully reversed as Ella goes back to speak with her family about what she has learned.

The Best We Could is told on a bare stage with Maureen Sebastian narrating the story, the backstory and the consequences of the casts’ actions. Ms. Sebastian is fantastic both acting in and narrating the show. She switches from dispassionate observer to cast member and back with ease and honesty.

Author Emily Feldman has created a nuanced play that is funny, familiar and both heartwarming and heart wrenching. At a speedy 90 minutes, it does not seem rushed or mawkish. Much of the credit goes to Director Daniel Aukin who allows the cast to move deliberately without sacrificing the emotions behind the story. Produced on an empty stage, The Best We Could (a family tragedy) focusses on the story of a family that loses its own story. It is great.

The Best We Could (a family tragedy)
Playwright: Emily Feldman | Director: Daniel Aukin | Cast: Aya Cash, Brian D. Coats, Maureen Sebastian, Constance Schulman, Frenk Wood

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