New play employs denial to cope with prickly reality

Mick Mize (center) leads cast (from left, Lauren Garcia, Jessica Lea Risco, David Sinaiko [in Spiderman costume], Gabriel Montoya, Tim Garcia and Millie Brooks) in crazed revelry. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Jonathan Spector’s world premiere at the CustomMade Theatre Co. is vastly superior to his cryptic title, “Good. Better. Best. Bested.”

The playwright’s one-act, 80-minute intermission-less comic drama is a post-apocalyptic/pre-apocalyptic peek at how human beings can cloak themselves in denial when reality becomes too prickly to face.

All seven praiseworthy cast members assume multiple roles in this tipsy spree up and down the Las Vegas strip during a Super Bowl weekend.

They become Sin City detritus composed of frenzied tourists, poker hotshots, a hooker, a magician, soldiers, a bridal party and street performers who simulate a silver statue and Spiderman — while a nuclear war that’s broken out between India and Pakistan and killed millions messes with their minds.

David Sinakio (left, as Walter) and Tim Garcia (as his teen son) experience poignant moment. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Especially outstanding in my book is David Sinaiko as Walter, an inelegant father and tapped out gambler. He also skillfully portrays a standoffish colonel and a silvery-statue mime — as well as a slightly pudgy Spiderman.

But his acting chops are complemented by Jessica Lea Risco as the prostitute who can overcome her panic with a hilarious breathing exercise.

The big question: Will any of the characters let conflict, chaos or cut feet disrupt their enthusiasm?

The short answer: Nope.

Lauren English’s direction stays taut despite Spector’s creation showcasing, rather than a cohesive storyline, a progression of vignettes that, like current American society, appear to be disconnected.

And yet Spector — whose “Eureka Day” just finished a run at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley — kept me chuckling with wily, subversive humor reminiscent of the “Laugh In” glory days of Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn.

Spector’s satire is a co-production with the East Bay’s Just Theater, which he co-directs and which since 2006 has prided itself in providing “theatrically adventurous voices addressing morally complex questions” in new works that are “smart, funny and unusual with complex narratives, distinctive use of language and big ideas.”

His play’s title, not incidentally, apparently is a reference to the psychological game and idea of “dashed hopes and good intentions” in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Deviously clever? Perhaps.

Clear? Not quite.

At a moment in time when wannabe immigrant families are being shattered by uninformed or unformed federal policies, this production can have a formidable impact.

But I must admit that despite its plentiful and sometimes surreal humor (such as two women licking mud off a soldier’s uniform in the belief it’s chocolate) I exited the show upset and slightly depressed by the realization of how low we as human beings can go.

“Good. Better. Best. Bested” will run at the Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St. (at Powell), San Francisco, through July 7. Night performances, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets: $25 to $45. Information: www.custommade.org or 415-798-2682.

Contact Woody Weingarten at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →