TR Robertson — “The Luckiest” is a powerful, thought provoking, highly emotional play that uses the eventual life’s journey to death and dying, which we all will deal with, to explore who will be with us when that journey begins and ends, how we will deal with those around us and how important it is to make sure we are able to deal with this journey on our own terms. Sounds a little morbid, but this play is anything but that. The world premiere of Melissa Ross’s play, “The Luckiest” allows us to see a glimpse into one woman’s life over a short period of time and the two most important people she, Lissette, has chosen to accompany her on a most difficult decision about how she chooses to deal with a debilitating disease and a decision she has made about her final days on this Earth.
Photos by Jim Carmody
Surrounding Lissette’s journey is the overwhelming feeling of the tremendous love and willingness to sacrifice the two people closest to Lissette have for her. Playwright Ross, indicated in prior interviews, that she hoped as people left the theatre they would openly talk about not only about dealing with death as much as they would talk about life and living life. In the play, Lissette says all her life she wanted to “Live Hard and Love Hard”. Lissette is a young woman, energetic and full of life, who hits a wall when a diagnosis indicates she will be slowly succumbing to the effects of a disease that will rob her of everything she has that enables her to live the life she loves. The decision she makes is to not let this situation stop her until she can’t possibly go on.
As she shares this news with her mother, Cheryl, and her best friend, Peter, it is interesting to see the stages they each go through to try and understand and deal with the situation surround them and Lissette. In a series of flash backs, using the three small sets on the lengthy Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre Stage, allows the audience to see how Lissette’s friendship with Peter developed and grew and the relationship she had with her mother. Each scene also shows how they came to understand how each would deal with Lissette and her illness. It was harder for Cheryl to let go and to understand how to deal with her daughter, her daughters wishes and just how much to try and control the situation when dealing with her daughter. Lessons galore surround what is brought out in the play and most leaving the theatre were, perhaps, discussing a similar situation in their life, something they had heard of or how they might deal with similar situations.
This powerful play has three amazingly strong and emotionally dynamic actors/actresses who make you feel, for the 90 minutes of the play, you are actually looking into the life of real people, not performers on a stage. It is though you are a fly on the wall listening to their personal problems, what life has brought them, how they have dealt with their own personal situations and most importantly, the emotions surrounding how they are dealing with Lissette’s life and decisions.
Aleque Reid plays Lissette, and is making her La Jolla Playhouse debut. Reid brings tremendous energy and emotion to her role. She shows a range of responses, someone in her situation, would go through with tremendous realism. Her monologue to the audience, toward the end of the play, is a powerful statement about how someone facing similar decisions might handle the acceptance of what life has dealt them.
Playing her best friend Peter is Reggie White. Reggie has performed in previous La Jolla Playhouse productions, “Hundred Days” and “The Last Tiger in Haiti”. Peter goes through the biggest changes on stage, testing the strength of their friendship and love for one another. As Peter, his emotional range is amazing, as he goes from the highs of first meeting Lissette to the lows of having to deal with and understand what Lissette wants for her last days on this Earth and the role he will probably play in helping make this happen. The comic banter between Peter and Lissette and White’s rapid fire dialogue is mesmerizing, beginning at the start of the play, with his description of all of the food items he bought at Trader Joe’s for Lissette’s “death party”.
Deirdre Lovejoy plays Cheryl, Lissette’s mother, and she is making her La Jolla Playhouse debut. Lovejoy has performed on Broadway, in Regional Theatre and in numerous television productions. Lovejoy presents a “hard as nails”, “tell it like it is” East Coast mom attitude. She has a hard time understanding exactly how Lissette wants her to deal with her situation and like any mom she feels the need to step in and help immediately. Her frustration is evident on stage, but as she slowly begins to understand, her love for her daughter and her daughter’s wishes win out. Lovejoy also convinces us what we are watching is more than a play, but is real emotions about a hard decision in the life of the daughter she loves.
“The Luckiest” is directed by former La Jolla Playhouse’s Associate Artistic Director, Jaime Castaneda. He is assisted by Scenic Designer Tim MacKabee, Costume Designer Denitsa Bliznakova, Lighting Designer Lap Chi Chu, Composer and Sound Designer Ryan Rumery, Dramaturg Gabriel Greene and Stage Manager Anjee Nero.
Don’t be mistaken, this is not a play about dying, but rather a play about life. This is a powerful play centering on living the life we choose to live, how to deal with the friends and relatives closest to us when dealing with what life throws at us and the strength and importance love plays in the road we choose to travel. It should be noted the play does have strong language and probably not suited for younger children.
“The Luckiest” is at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, on the U.C.S.D. Campus. The play will run through July 28th. Tickets are available at 858-550-1010 or go to www.LaJollaPlayhouse.org.