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BWW Reviews: World Premiere of OKAY BETTER BEST is Captivating, Sobering, and Funny

Last night, Cone Man Running Productions presented the World Premiere performance of Michael Weems surprisingly sobering comedy OKAY BETTER BEST at Obsidian Art Space. This brand new play investigates the power of bar bets, friendships, relationships, and the devastating affects of misplaced bitter revenge on people we don't know.

Michael Weems' script for OKAY BETTER BEST is inspiringly realistic, creating characters that appear to have been plucked from any New York City bar and placed on stage for us to watch. Their actions are relatable, plausible even. The dialogue is fresh and contemporary, which makes the characters all the more appealing and pragmatic. In the first act, he cleverly builds and drops momentum so that each character's arc and individual plot is clearly established and explored. The second act moves with a steady and completely intriguing pace and expertly resolves every element introduced in the first act.

Sam Martinez's direction of OKAY BETTER BEST grounds the characters in their individual realities, which guarantees that the believability of Michael Weems words is front and center in the performance. During the first act, I found myself wondering if utilizing the Brechtian approach of the actors staying on stage the whole time and milling about, as we might see in a real bar, would allow for scene transitions to be quicker. Ultimately, in my mind, this would aide in the momentum building instead of dropping in every blackout. However, I'm not wholly convinced that this would solve the "issue," as it seems intentional and adeptly adds to the strength of the second act.

Margaret Lewis' Tricia is that beautiful girl that drives everyone crazy because she sees too many flaws in herself. Fresh out of a relationship, she is looking for "rebound booty," but is discouraged when she finds out that her pretty friend, Anne, has been invited to spend time with her and Eve at the bar too. She initiates the vindictive embittered revenge against the boys to prove a point about how men hurt women without any consideration. As the hard-shelled, aggressive, and bitchy girl, Margaret Lewis' pristinely played Tricia cleverly convinces her friends that her plot will be great for a few laughs. As the play progresses, her own walls come down and the audience sees Margaret Lewis beautifully transition Tricia into a woman with a sense of compassion that is terrified to be hurt again.

As Leif, Ross Childs is the stereotypical, egotistical pig that lies to women to take them home and bed them. We all know him and hate him, but we also all want his confidence and abilities to go home with anybody that he wants. He hilariously is trying to teach his skills to two other men, unknowingly becoming singled out as Tricia's target. Like Tricia, as the play progresses, Ross Childs exposes the heart behind Leif's façade, showing the audience the man who longs for something more substantial than his unfulfilling no strings attached hook-ups.

Eve, played by Lauren Hainley, feels trapped in her safe relationship. She and her boyfriend have been dating for four years. She wants to take the plunge, but is unable to find the magic key to motivate her boyfriend to propose. Lauren Hainley brings an almost voyeuristic quality to her Eve, making it seem that Eve enjoys living vicariously through the romantic tumult of her friends Tricia and Anne. In Tricia's bet though, Lauren Hainley's intriguing Eve finds what she is looking for and inadvertently becomes a man-eater in achieving her goals.

Russell Pierre portrays charismatic and charming Martin with skilled precision. Martin has the most to lose. Constantly looking for marriage material, he walks around with a ring in his pocket. With a radiant and fun air, he spins yarns about the ring and his intentions that are fascinating and funny. Russell Pierre breathes insecure, timid life into Martin, making the audience understand why he would use Leif's services, while showing us that this is clearly a man who needs no help in talking with women.

Katherine Rinaldi's Anne is the pretty girl who just wants to be treated like a normal human being. She finds that her looks intimidate men, and Katherine Rinaldi brings striking emotional life and depth to her character's quest for someone who will just look at her, talk to her, and not let her physical attractiveness get in the way. Moreover, she is initially opposed to playing Tricia's game, concerned about the possible damaging repercussions.

Chad, who vacillates between maturity and childlike behavior, is dexterously played James Wetuski. He seems like he has it all together in the first act, with a polished personality that matches his professional appearance. Yet, in the second act we see childlike vindictiveness in his dealings with Eve, making him appear to be a total dick. James Wetuski balances the extremes of the character well, and resolves Chad's arc by finding by crafting a nice middle ground for his character.

Young and dumb Jenny is sharply played by Jessica Bell. She plays the 21-year-old co-ed with a I'm-sexy-and-I-know-it attitude. Jessica Bell makes certain that Jenny is comfortable being arm candy and nothing more.

Lighting Design by Josh T. Baker keeps the actors in warm amber washes. The scenes are brightly lit, evoking ideations of classy and bright bars as opposed to seedy dive bars. Because the show is running in repertoire with another Cone Man Running Productions show and while a Big Head Productions show is also using the same stage on weekends, the lighting design is simplistic. Despite being simplistic it is effective.

Set Design and Costuming is minimal and simplistic as well. A round table, bentwood chairs, a bar, and cocktail glasses are used to indicate location. Costuming appears to be pieces from the closets of the actors that were well chosen to represent the characters they play.

Cone Man Running Productions' World Premiere of Michael Weems' OKAY BETTER BEST is a captivating night at the theatre. Not knowing what to expect walking in, I thought I would have laughed more; however, I was pleasantly surprised at the depth and realism in his script. OKAY BETTER BEST is a play that asks the audiences to think about the situations presented, explore the gender role inequality that exists in 2013, the ways we disregard and disparage gender roles, and the ways we uphold gender roles. It also invites audiences to think about what it means when women design and execute the lowbrow bar bet, the power involved in the initiation of the action, and the power that we have to control others, whether they be our friends, our significant others, or our one-night stands.

The World Premiere of OKAY BETTER BEST runs at Obsidian Art Space through March 29, 2013. It runs in repertory with TRUMBO: RED, WHITE AND BLACKLISTED. For more information and tickets to either show, please visit

All Photos by Christine Weems. Courtesy of Cone Man Running Productions.

Margaret Lewis as Tricia & Ross Childs as Leif.

Margaret Lewis as Tricia.

James Wetuski as Chad & Lauren Hainley as Eve.

Katherine Rinaldi as Anne.

Russell Pierre as Martin & Katherine Rinaldi as Anne.

Lauren Hainley as Eve.

Lauren Hainley as Eve, Jessica Bell as Jenny & James Wetuski as Chad.

Jessica Bell as Jenny & James Wetuski as Chad.

Russell Pierre as Martin, Ross Childs as Leif & Katherine Rinaldi as Anne.

Russell Pierre as Martin & Katherine Rinaldi as Anne.

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From This Author - David Clarke

David Clarke has had a lifelong love and passion for the performing arts, and has been writing about theatre both locally and nationally for years. He joined running their read more about this author)

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