New play employs denial to cope with prickly reality
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.
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.