Jeff Daniels is at his 'Best' showing people at their worst
|By Tom Helma|
Couples collide in savagely funny Purple Rose comedy(Thursday, Nov. 4) They were the best of friends; they were the worst of friends. Writer Jeff Daniels has a knack for creating complex characterizations of couples experiencing the challenges of interpersonal intimacy. In this latest piece of comedic stagecraft, “Best of Friends,” he tackles the phenomena of best friend couple relationships that go awry — and boy, do they go awry.
John and Beth Martin, portrayed by Alex Leydenfrost and Michelle Mountain, are the older, more established couple, comfortable in their “wealth” and unconsciously patronizing to the max. Ken and Hannah Porter (Matthew David and Rhiannon Ragland) are the younger up-and-coming couple, wanting and yearning for a couple with whom they can hang, but also feeling insecure and inadequate.
When Ken decides to do something passive-aggressive to even things up between the couples— the sharp-edged fun and wisecracking hostility escalate to epic proportions. Daniels' central thesis in this play is that “any of us, at any time in life, are capable of doing anything.” The one-upsmanship that follows from this theme is played out throughout the play in ever increasing intensity until the very idea of any continuing intimate friendship between these couples is finally put to rest.
Daniels feeds great lines to all of the characters and they devour them with gusto, delivering them to the audience with all the acerbic wit they can muster. Beth has many of the best smart-ass lines, a wise and witty drunk who observes at one point that her husband’s comment is ”like the pitcher calling the catcher black.” Not to be outdone, Ken concocts a scene to convince the Martins that the shish kabob they just consumed was their beloved child-substitute cock-a-poo, a line that draws over-the-top groaning from the audience. John is so conspicuously unaware of his imperial above-it-all manner that he cannot help but scratch on the blackboard of David’s blue-collar working class roots. Hannah sees slights, accurately, in every little gift bestowed upon her by this new best of female friends. Watching this play is a little like imagining a couples' date night with Virg Bernero and Rick Snyder and their spouses.
“Best of Friends” is slightly akin to a brittle, bristling updating of “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” the characters on an LSD-fueled roller coaster trip, far more deliciously funny, yet more virulently vicious as well. Daniels' script suggests a writer with a deep capacity for detachment and keen psychological insight, someone who can both participate in the everyday ordinariness of life, yet also see the illusions therein.
In real life, it sometimes doesn’t take much to rub your best friend the wrong way, and this comic exaggeration of the point promotes the importance of sensitivity and selectivity in how we address differences between people based on income, status and life experience.
'Best of Friends'
Purple Rose Theatre
137 Park St., Chelsea
8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 18.