Certain plays simmer slowly with quiet character reflections and occasional shocking revelations. Ultimately, they reach a boiling point that leave audiences gutted and deeply moved. There are others that attempt such a feat but fall short of the goal. Emily Feldman’s tepid Off Broadway play, The Best We Could (a family tragedy), falls into the latter category.
Suburban malaise is rampant in Feldman’s drama starring Tony award winner Frank Wood as a father, Lou, whose professional and personal life is unravelling. He’s been fired from his job as a senior investigator at a biomedical research institute (for reasons which will reveal themselves). Despite pleas to his best friend and fellow microbiologist Marc (Brian D. Coats) to land work, he remains rudderless. He resides in New Jersey with his wife, Peg (Constance Shulman), a retired events planner. Their daughter, Ella (Aya Cash), is studying on the west coast.
There’s not a great deal of action throughout Manhattan Theater Club’s 90-minute production, but it’s clear that all of the characters suffer from low grade depression and discontent. From the title alone, we know that it will not end well.
One of the few moments of levity comes from Maureen Sebastian, whose role is named “Maps.” Sebastian serves as the story’s narrator and plays a variety of comedic parts throughout.
Feldman drew inspiration from the piece from both Death of a Salesman and Our Town, two towering classics that are hard to top. Both of those works have likable, complex characters through which we’re able to empathize.
In Feldman’s piece, it’s hard to be invested in anyone, leaving audiences with a sense of apathy and boredom. Lael Jellinek’s confusing set, described in the script as: “not an illustration of a real place somewhere but as a representation of a stage” does little to engage.
Perhaps the biggest—and best-takeaway is the show’s accompanying eclectic Spotify playlist, compiled by Feldman.
The Best We Could (a family tragedy) is now playing at New York City Center (131 W 55th St (between Sixth and Seventh avenues, NYC) through March 26. For tickets and information, click here.