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THEATER REVIEW The Luckiest People
by Kerry Reid
2018-04-04

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Playwright: Meridith Friedman

At: Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: 773-935-6875; AthenaeumTheatre.org; $22-$32. Runs through: April 29

The graying of American audiences comes in for a lot of handwringing in thought pieces about the future of American theater. Yet plays that deal in some way with aging or ill parents pop up frequently. ( Clare Barron's "You Got Older" at Steppenwolf earlier this year being just one example. ) Like the people in the front of the house, the older characters onstage aren't ready to leave the theater of life just yet.

In Meridith Friedman's The Luckiest People, now in a "rolling world premiere" with Stage Left through the National New Play Network, the senior character is Oscar Hoffman ( Sandy Elias ), a New York native transplanted a few years earlier to a senior-living facility in Northern California by his physician son, Richard ( Nelson Rodriguez ). His wife, Dorothy, has just died from Parkinson's, his own vision and mobility are on the wane, and he wants to move in with Richard and his partner, David ( Christopher W. Jones ). But the two men are planning to adopt a six-year-old boy—and with Oscar's daughter, Laura ( Lisa Herceg ), on her way back to her husband and son in Shanghai, Oscar feels like the odd man out in his own family.

Friedman's play, directed by Jason A. Fleece, doesn't rely on big reveals of family secrets or epic battles, a la August: Osage County, to make points about how hard it can be to accept the caregiver role. Instead, it unpeels the conflicts through a series of small moments that add up to an honest evaluation of what our responsibilities are to each other.

Rodriguez is especially good as Richard, whose self-protective tendencies make it hard for him to really open up to others. He's well-matched by Herceg's acerbic but self-excoriating Laura, and the dialogue between the two provide some of the biggest laughs in the show. Jones' warm-hearted David, whose shared love with Oscar of musical theater ( including Funny Girl ) provides the play's title, provides a calming balance to the sniping Hoffmans. Unfortunately, we don't learn nearly as much about David's background—a fact that Friedman turns into a joke when it's clear that Laura can't remember where he's from or what he does for a living.

This isn't a show packed with emotional histrionics, and there are moments where Fleece's staging pulls its punches when it could afford to raise the stakes. The ambiguity of the ending doesn't entirely land. But on its own modest terms, The Luckiest People succeeds at providing an honest portrait of how grief changes our perceptions of family roles. People who need people … well, you know the rest.


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