Reviews

The Best We Could ****

By: Isa Goldberg

March 21, 2023: Emily Feldman’s new play, “The Best We Could ” (a family tragedy), at The Manhattan Theatre Club, while contemporary in style, harkens back to classical Greek tragedy.

Narrated by a character named Maps (Maureen Sebastian), the tale comes to life seamlessly, as the actors walk into the events, and circumstances that will determine their fate. Maps leads us on this father daughter road trip, while pointing out to the audience from the very beginning, that this is a performance. 

Frank Wood, Aya Cash

By: Isa Goldberg

March 21, 2023: Emily Feldman’s new play, “The Best We Could” (a family tragedy), at The Manhattan Theatre Club, while contemporary in style, harkens back to classical Greek tragedy. 

Narrated by a character named Maps (Maureen Sebastian), the tale comes to life seamlessly, as the actors walk into the events, and circumstances that will determine their fate. Maps leads us on this father daughter road trip, while pointing out to the audience from the very beginning, that this is a performance. 

Set minimally (by Lael Jellnek), the wide open space tells us we’re looking at the stage…not the family home, or the highway where the action takes place. Without furniture or props, the audience relies on their imagination, creating the scene in their minds, along with the actors. 

Maureen Sebastian

In the central role, Frank Wood portrays Lou, an inspector in a biomedical institute who loses his position, and then his career. Wood, who won the Tony Award for his portrayal of the hopeless Jazz musician in “Sideman”, is no stranger to emotionally defunct characters. More importantly, he has the rare gift of portraying the soulless with soul. Even here, he creates empathy for a hapless, ineffectual loser. It is his fate.

Fortunately, Lou is a colorful Everyman, as American as Melville’s Bartlby, and as universal as Gogol’s Counselor, in “The Overcoat”.

Most of the on-stage action focuses on Lou’s road trip with his daughter, designed to lift his spirits, and hers. As Lou’s wife (Constance Shulman) laments, “He needs something to look forward to. I do too.” 

Brian D. Coates, Constance Shulman, Aya Cash, Frank Wood & Maureen Sebastian.

It’s their daughter Ella (Aya Cash) who is trapped, unable to draw on her talents, or challenge herself, in any way. When she sees an obstacle, she quits, and runs in the other direction. She doesn’t even have a dishwasher, a real job, or a husband. She doesn’t have a life, her mother complains. 

On their road trip, Lou and Ella visit Mount Rushmore, something Lou has always wanted to see.  Hearing about this, his friend and former colleague’s wife remarks, “Marvel at the spectacle… A four-headed sarcophagus—etched in the image of four dead men who did more than four terrible things.” 

In contrast to his idols at Rushmore, Lou is a White man who only did one terrible thing, but he pays for it, with his life. Dumped from his job of many years, he cries at the tiniest things. And what he is literally accused of is touching, and squeezing a woman’s butt two times, on the same day. 

While Lou is out to lunch, as they say, the woman he touched certainly is not. She uses the issue of his alleged abuse, and her trauma, to end his career, and boost her own.

With Sebastian narrating and portraying the female victim, the trauma appears as though it were a prophecy for the White man. Sebastian also portrays the wife of Lou’s best friend, who has more to say than anyone else around her, and says it so much more articulately, regardless of how soulless her quotable lines sound. 

Frank Wood, Constance Shulman & Aya Cash.

Standing by earnestly Ella recalls, “He worked on a paper every weekend my whole life. Maybe he won’t cure cancer (…) but he is contributing something good to this world, and it’s more than most people are doing. And now he’s supposed to just, what? Disappear?”

As Lou’s adult daughter, Cash is entirely fetching. Maureen Sebastian sheds the light of intellectual brilliance, however harsh that is. In the role of his guilt inflicting wife, Constance Shulman is appropriately shrill. And Brian D. Coates plays Lou’s colleague and best friend, with dignified banality.

Daniel Aukin’s direction is sensitive in mining the emotional lives of the characters, bringing the personal to the universal, and maneuvering through the narrational framework so smoothly. 

It’s exciting to hear a new woman’s voice that is distinct, enriching, and well-evolved.

The Best We Could ****
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street
Photography: Marc J. Franklin, Courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club