Monday, June 18, 2018

"Good. Better. Best. Bested."


Good. Better. Best. Bested
Jonathan Spector

The Cast of Good. Better. Best. Bested.
It’s a typical day in Vegas.  Tourists dressed in red, white, and blue roam about drinking and being totally obnoxious – even belligerent – to the gold painted, “frozen statue” of a man.  A Roman gladiator and a foot soldier kibbutz in a quick work break while Spiderman roams the streets posing for pictures-for-pay.  A bachelorette party is assembling, ready to booze and dance the entire weekend while an uptight, nervous man in his business suit opens his hotel door to welcome a woman of the night dressed in a shiny, tight dress barely covering the parts of her body that are supposed to be hidden. 

And far away, on the other side of the world, the unimaginable happens.  Vegas pauses for a moment (neon lights still blinking and fountains flowing), and then everyone searches where to go have another drink.

Thus is the set-up and quick summary for Jonathan Spector’s comedy -- Good. Better. Best. Bested. -- now in world premiere as a joint production between Custom Made Theatre Company and Just Theater.  Loren English directs the ninety-minute, quick-paced series of interwoven vignettes in which each set of characters at one point or another interacts at random with all the others.  Action is non-stop, with time to catch one’s breath only in a few spots where we almost, but not quite, get to know the characters introduced.

And while the mostly bizarre and quirky folks are sometimes mildly funny – when they are not just plain pitiful or downright despicable – there are only a few scattered moments where much general, out-right laughter occurs or is deserved.

Mick Mize
The cast of seven each plays two-to-three often wildly different parts, requiring some quick changes in and out of the myriad of costumes Brooke Jennings has designed for them.  Mick Mize opens the show as Jordon, a charismatic, quick-handed magician in a paisley-decorated red jacket who uses his telepathic powers to wow (and woo) a bride-to-be named Sue (Lauren Andrei Garcia).  Jordon later transforms into a drunk red-neck “Bro” who also make moves on the same Sue, but not before Mick Mize takes a turn also as “Grunt,” a young, Brit soldier who out of the blue goes into a monologue from Edwin Campion Vaughn’s 1917 Diary of a Young Officer.  (The connection of that interlude to the rest of the play somehow went way over my head.)  Meanwhile, Sue takes her turns as a half-sloshed, photo-snapping tourist and as a uniformed private with one night left before being shipped to the Pacific. 

The rest of the cast are equally proficient in quick changes of personality and costume, with not a hitch in the opening night parade of the Strip’s peculiar set of oddballs.  Along with playing a wild party girl on the street, Millie Brooks is Sue’s friend, Marla, a squeaky voiced member of Sue’s bachelorette party who hates dogs and has a funny sequence of walking a dog we never see but very much witness his presence. 

Gabrek Montoya & Jessica Lea Risco
Gabriel Montoya (when he is not playing costumed street characters) is a shy, sad, and sex-starved widower named Alan who has ditched sitting shiva for his deceased wife and instead is putting up the three smackers to spend the evening with tight-dressed, high-heeled, all-business Simone (Jessica Lea Risco).  Their late-night encounter is slow to start as Alan eagerly reads Simone’s online reviews from her past “clients” and is further delayed by news of the horrific event eight thousand miles away. 

David Sinaiko & Tim Garcia
Weaving in and out of the short glimpses of these various lives is an out-of-work, divorced father, Walter, who has lost livelihood gambling and his late-teen son, Sheldon, who is a wound-tight ball of knee-shaking nerves making shady deals on the side as he searches for his “purpose.”  The strained interactions between Walter (David Sinaiko) and Sheldon (Tim Garcia) are some of the best moments of the evening, with Walter trying his best to be the absent father who now cares and Sheldon doing all he can to avoid doing or saying any more than is perfunctorily necessary.

Throughout the passing encounters on streets and in hotel lobbies, projections of both well-known Vegas scenes and everyday crowds of gamblers and tourist flash by, thanks to the excellent work of Theodore J.H. Hulsker.  The sounds of the bustling Vegas environment flood in waves via the design of Jaren Feeley while the spotlights of a stage and the dampened hues of a bar are part of Sophia Craven’s excellent lighting design.

Production-wise, actor-wise, and directorially, Good. Better. Best. Bested. is impressive enough, given the small setting in Custom Made’s intimate theatre.  But where Jonathan Spector’s new comedy does not work so well is as a comedy.  For all its outrageous array of characters and situations – not to mention the big world event that Vegas and its transitory inhabitants puzzle how to react – there are few big laughs and not too many chuckles.  Much of the time, I found myself just watching with little reaction to the blur of oddball activity passing by, never exactly bored but certainly never fully engaged.  Compared to Jonathan Spector’s Eureka Day – recently also in world premiere at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre -- Good. Better. Best. Bested. does not yet seem in the same category of script or subject-matter excellence.

Rating: 3 E

Good. Better. Best. Bested. continues through July 7, 2018 in joint production by Custom Made Theatre Company and Just Theater at Custom Made Theatre Company, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at www.custommade.org or at http://justtheater.org.

Photo Credits:  Jay Yamada



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