Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the December 6, 2000
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Best Friends’
If we stop moving, even for a second, somebody’s gonna
Ostensibly, Thomas P. Carr’s new play "Best Friends," now
receiving its world premiere at Bristol Riverside Theater, is about
two septuagenarians. It tells the story of Murray (Dana Bate) who,
with the help of his equally aged friend Hal (Edward Earle), fights
to maintain his independence as a human being, despite the
of age, illness, and the wishes of his Harvard-educated attorney
Susan (Bethe B. Austin) whom both fear will eventually plop Murray
into an old folks home.
"Best Friends" is a light Neil Simonesque comedy filled with
snazzy dialogue, a lot of very funny one-liners, some extremely
happenings, and, maybe, a sentimental teardrop or two.
It also has two very fine performances by its two leading men.
Murray and Hal met one another when they were both five years old.
Throughout the next 70 years, through their years growing up together,
their respective marriages, the years working as professional actors
sharing the stage with the likes of Ethel Merman and Judy Garland;
through the years of raising of their children, and the recent sad
deaths of their wives, Murray and Hal have been best friends.
Now Hal has brought Murray, who has just been evicted from his
for non-payment of back rent, to the cozy confines of his summer
in New Hampshire, on the day before Christmas Eve. There the two
reminisce, crack jokes, play chess, discuss Murray’s recent prostate
surgery, and generally try to figure out what to do with the rest
of their lives. The one thing they know for sure is that they both
must preserve their own, and one another’s, independence for as long
as they possibly can.
Soon a zany neighbor, Mrs. Dogherty (Vera Johnson), appears at their
door with a welcome-to-the-neighborhood casserole. She happens to
be the wife of the local undertaker who’s favorite cologne is
and who keeps his hearse parked behind the house where the neighbors
can’t see it. "We don’t want to appear pushy," she explains.
Assuming that the two old actors must be gay, Mrs. Dogherty arranges
for another local gay couple to drop in for a visit. Bobby (Tony
and Tracy (Peter Kybart) show up at the door, decked out in
long scarves and bursting at the seams for the chance to sing show
tunes. Despite the differences in their sexual orientation, the four
men get along famously and soon embark on a hilarious song and dance
number that weaves its way through the cottage, only to be interrupted
by the unexpected appearance of Murray’s daughter, Susan, and her
long-time boyfriend Robert (Edward Keith Baker), who also happens
to be Hal’s son.
Susan tries to convince Murray that he needs to live under more
conditions, but Murray balks, and she reluctantly relents. But as
fate would have it, Susan’s worst fears are soon realized and Murray
does indeed suffer a stroke. But with the help of friends, Murray
gets to the hospital (via Mrs. Dogherty’s hearse), and recovers enough
of his faculties for Susan to confine him into an old folks home.
Knowing that Murray must be miserable living in such an environment,
Hal and his friends decide to take matters into their own hands and
embark on a highly unlikely kidnap plot.
Carr’s script is often very funny. He has a nice light touch, knowing
how and when to use a quick unobtrusive joke, not only to get a laugh,
but also to build character. His characters are warm, friendly, and
believable. As one might expect, the play has its sentimental moments
that scratch at the heart-strings. And for the most part they work.
(Although a drawn-out scene late in the second act between Hal and
his son that culminates in a mutual bear-hug comes way too late in
Dana Bate and Edward Earle are excellent as Murray and
Hal. They play their parts with a vaudevillian sense of feigned
looking casual and comfortable, but always intensely aware of what
effect their having upon the audience. Both are a comedy writer’s
dream, possessing that special comic gift of timing, knowing exactly
how long to pause before delivering a punchline in order to wring
out the biggest laugh. After a while, the audience is so conditioned
to laugh that even some unfunny things sound funny.
Peter Kybart and Tony Aylward are also very funny as Murray and Hal’s
two gay friends, and they certainly put the gay in gay. Their
are exceedingly peppy people, always cheerful, always ready to sing
and dance. They are portrayed in that exaggeratedly feminine manner
that gays usually get from mainstream theater, TV, and film. (Though
thankfully, no lisp.) It’s interesting to ponder whether some day
this caricature of gays will be put aside in the same way that the
Uncle Tom-type caricature, once so popular, has been firmly squashed.
Susan D. Atkinson’s direction is well suited to the pace and depth
of the play. She has a keen awareness of its slightly heightened
and allows her actors to play their characters in a perfectly suitable
and slightly exaggerated fashion. Although these characters look
natural on stage, they would seem pretty weird if one were to
them on the street.
Nels Anderson’s set design, a somewhat worn, but cozy cottage, with
frosty windows, nicely mirrors the characters themselves. Charles
S. Reece’s lighting design, ranging from the moving headlights of
a car pulling up to the cottage, to dark winter cold nights, and the
reawakening blue light of a winter morning, are equally excellent.
Both play an integral role in enhancing the ambiance of the play.
There are a lot of good things about "Best Friends." It is
set in a kind of world that most of us would like to be in more often,
with good friends and good family, and where love and loyalty are
simple and enduring. Of course, life rarely proves to be that simple,
but there’s no harm in wishing.
— Jack Florek
Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. World premiere comedy by Thomas P.
Carr. $27 to $34. To December 17.
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