TR Robertson — Director Eric Poppick begins his opening paragraph, in the program for “For Better”, with this interesting fact; “Would it surprise you to know that 95 percent of Americans today own a cell phone of some kind?” This is the premise and the situation the characters in the play find themselves in, cell phones controlling people’s lives to the point where relationships are dealt with via texts, calls and the internet rather that face-to-face encounters.
Our world has become people walking with one hand wrapped around a phone, hardly ever looking up and making eye contact, looking up people’s profiles on various web sites, establishing relationships over the internet and purchasing anything and everything with a phone or computer. People who don’t own a cell phone or computer are looked at as living in the past and definitely behind the times. Such is what is going on in “For Better”.
Photos by Ken Jacques
The play opens with Karen Baedeker trying to get her father to join in on today’s modern world both with his T.V. hook-ups and with meeting her fiancé over the cell phone. Wally Baedeker would today be considered a dinosaur, determined to live his life without what people say are modern conveniences. It is from this point the play takes a twist as miscommunication upon miscommunication begins to drive everyone crazy. Karen’s sister, Francine, lives on her phone, as does her husband Michael. They “stay in contact” only with their phones and by doing this are falling farther and farther apart. Mix in a ditzy friend, Lizzie, who Michael once was romantically involved, a young man vacationing in Kyrgyzstan who believes he may still be in love with Karen and distraught she is going to be married and you have a perfect set-up for everything that could go wrong, to go wrong. We never meet Karen’s fiancé, only hear about him over the phone. A mess up by Michael on a series of calls between him, Francine and Lizzie leads to a possible marriage fiasco, and we soon see that technology can definitely help, but can also hinder relationships.
A veteran SRT cast presents this fast paced, intricately timed comedy with great on stage chemistry. At several points on stage, various members of the cast stand on risers with large cell phones behind them as a backdrop, carrying on fast paced conversations with the familiar, “Can you hear me?”, ending most of the conversations. Kay Marian McNellen, as Karen Baedeker, presents a woman who has had a one-time meeting with the man of her dreams which has led to a quick proposal and a long distance cell phone engagement. Veteran actor Fred Harlow presents the technology challenged father, Wally Bardeker, with both tenderness and humor. Heidi Bridges plays Francine Dexter, Karen’s sister and married to Michael. Heidi has been in a number of regional theatre performances and had an outstanding performance as Margie in SRT’s “Good People”. Charles Peters plays Michael Dexter, a man who is struggling in his marriage as he is always on the road for business and he still thinks he has feelings for former girlfriend Lizzie, especially after he gets some mixed signals in a phone call with her. Charles is an award winning director and actor.
Playing the ever traveling, emotionally lost friend of Karen, is another SRT veteran Kenny Bordieri. As Stuart Tramontane, Kenny shows the complexity of trying to stay in touch with home while in countries with questionable cell reception, especially when you have trouble understanding what is happening back at home. An audience favorite was Erica Marie Weisz who presented the fast talking, romantically confused best friend of Karen’s, Lizzie Monohan. Erica has also performed in a number of San Diego County theatres and brings humor and energy to her roles.
Eric Poppick’s Production Team included Stage Manager Eli Asst. Stage Manager & Props Designer Darcy Harman, Costume Designer Dawn Fuller-Korinek, Sound Designer Steve Murdock, Set Designer & Construction Bob Shuttleworth, Lighting Designer Mitchell Simkovsky, and Production Manager Barbara Barber.
Playwright Eric Coble was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and raised on Navajo and Ute American Indian reservations in New Mexico and Colorado. He has had one play on Broadway, “The Velocity of Autumn”, and several Off-Broadway plays including “Bright Ideas”. He has received an Emmy nomination and numerous other awards.
We laugh at the characters in this comedy but every one of us has friends like those in the play. Its message concerning what we have allowed our lives to become since the invention of the computer and the cell phone is one we all need to take a look at. Francine says to husband Michael, “We need to be with each other not the picture on the phone”. It is though we have learned to communicate only through texting and calls and on everyone’s social media sites seem to have a need to let everyone know where we are ever single minute. I think the overall message of this play is very simple. We need to learn just to put our phones down every now and then.
“For Better” will play at Scripps Ranch Theatre at the Legler Benbough Theatre on the Alliant International University campus until June 24th. Tickets are available by calling 858-578-7728 or go to www.scrippsranchtheatre.com. Next up for Scripps Ranch Theatre is “Out on a Limb: New Plays from America’s Finest City” beginning on July 13th.