“The Best of Everything” an ambitious production

Female-dominated cast leads the latest production from TRU’s Actors Workshop Theatre

The female-dominated cast of “The Best of Everything” treated the audience in the Black Box Theatre to bouts of riotous laughter and moments of intense contemplation slashed with disdain, for one character in particular.

The TRU Actor’s Workshop Theatre’s production of “The Best of Everything” was directed by Robin Nichol and assistant director Megan Graham. It is an adaptation done by Julie Kramer, based on a book by Rona Jaffe.

The book on which AWT’s latest is based. (Penguin Books Limited)

The book on which AWT’s latest is based. (Penguin Books Limited)

The nine-person cast of Emily Thibert as Caroline Bender, Taylor Pace as Eddie Harris, Stephanie Morrison as Brenda Zaleski, Maddison Hartloff as Mary Agnes Russo, Krystine Lucas as April Morrison, Joel Feenstra as Mike Rice, Alicia Ashcroft as Amanda Farrow, Allandra Barton as Gregg Adams and Clayton Webber as Mr. Shalimar/David Savage/Ronnie all combined talents to deliver an entertaining and seamless production.

An interesting hybrid-corridor set design was adopted for this show. It essentially split the auidence in half with seats on opposite sides of the stage and forced the actors to be hyper-aware of their bodies in relation to each other and to the audience.

“[We had to] act to both sides, making sure that each side equally has a portion of the actor. Acting, in a way, with your back, so the audience knows when you’re angry, sad, or surprised,” Thibert said.

“Not only will you not be facing [each other], sometimes you will be blocking other actors,” Feenstra said.

“The Best of Everything” follows the life of Caroline Bender (Thibert), a young secretary turned editor living in New York. Caroline is trying to piece her life together and become self-reliant after being brutally dumped by her fiancé, Eddie (Pace), via letter (which would be today’s equivalent to a text).

Thibert succeeded in tackling the feat of an emotionally complex role. She had to convey feelings of inner turmoil, the drive to succeed, lust after a (somewhat) unrequited love interest and loneliness. The mastering of her role pushed her to grow as an actor, and as a person.

“I’m an apologetic person, and kind of scared of putting myself out there in fear of what other people will think. This role has kind of pushed me to be out there and be seen, and [to be] less apologetic,” Thibert said.

Early on, Caroline meets April Morrison. At first, April is a bright-eyed, naive, unabashedly honest young woman and a newcomer to New York. Lucas convincingly brought vivid life to her character and, more than anyone else, kept everyone in stitches with one-liners and unparalleled enthusiasm in her delivery.

Gregg Adams commanded the attention of the audience when she stepped onto the stage, illuminated by a single spotlight, all while belting out a striking solo. Barton had several monologues that pushed her acting chops, including a dramatic scene recreating a fight with an invisible man.

This play is filled with sudden and jarring shifts for some of the female characters. April transitions from an innocent and starry-eyed young woman, to a somewhat jaded, chic socialite and eventually to a content (stereotypical) bride-to-be. Gregg jumps from being a sultry, confident and commanding presence to a needy, insecure, mentally unstable and broken woman.

“It was really challenging jumping from fabulous, sophisticated Gregg, to a girl who was sitting and picking cigarette butts out of a garbage bin,” Barton said. “The cool thing about Gregg is that she’s always had that predisposition for craziness, it was in her all along.”

In contrast, Caroline stays relatively consistent throughout the play, only wavering when Eddie returns. She starts out as an ambitious, determined intellectual, who places a high value on her career, and ends up in the same position, but a bit higher up on the corporate ladder.

Interestingly enough, the male characters stay consistent as well. Eddie opens the play with a monologue, which is actually a letter from himself to Caroline explaining why he is leaving her for another woman. When he eventually returns, and starts up a passionate affair with Caroline, he reveals that the only value he places on her is as his lifelong mistress, not a wife.

Additionally, the mysterious and slightly strange Mike Rice stays developmentally steady. Mike maintains an emotional connection and attraction for Caroline but refuses to pursue a relationship beyond one physical encounter for fear of ruining her life.

“My biggest challenge was that he wanted Caroline, but didn’t want to hurt her future. I’ve never had to really experience that, because I’m fairly young. I don’t have those years of experience like he has,” Feenstra said.

The storyline drives home the often grim realities of women who want “the best of everything,” or the ideal life. Strong tones of feminism and the choices women are forced to make in the professional sphere are apparent.

“[It’s about] what was expected of a woman in that time. You get married, you have a house, you have kids,” Thibert said.

The message is delivered seamlessly because the play is, at times, so humorous.

“It’s fun and it’s kind of melodramatic so you don’t have to take it too seriously,” Nichol said.

But behind the laughter lay harsh truths of glass ceilings, workplace harassment and the real role of women in society.

“Anytime you have a period play that is set in a different time, it makes you think, that’s not my life, I’m looking at something else. But then you suddenly realize that there’s a lot of things that haven’t changed,” Nichol said.

The very selection of the script and the casting was related to the disproportionate percentage of women in theatre programs.

“I was looking for a show with a lot of women in it, because as in many other aspects of the world, most plays have more men than women and most theatre programs have more women than men,” Nichol said. “Even in [plays] with a lot of women, they are secondary characters. So finding something where the women were central was important to me. And I found this.”

Art should first serve to entertain, but above all else, to provoke thought. Leaving the Black Box Theatre, I was forced to contemplate what exactly “the best of everything” is and precisely what I wanted for my future.