Review: THE BEST OF EVERYTHING Lives Up To Its Title At Main Street Theater

A searing and funny look into the lives of women in the 50s to warn women of today.

By: May. 22, 2023
Review: THE BEST OF EVERYTHING Lives Up To Its Title At Main Street Theater
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Rona Jaffe’s THE BEST OF EVERYTHING was optioned as a film even before it was wholly written back in 1958.  Movie studios were looking for the next PEYTON PLACE, and Jaffe’s tale of a group of women working in the steno pool of a publishing house held promise of delivering just that.  The author based everything on her real life experiences working for Pocket Books in New York City.  The book was a best-seller, and was subsequently made into a major film with Joan Crawford notoriously taking her first supporting role in 1959.  The book and the movie remain a cultural touchstone, so much so that in the cable series MAD MEN the lead Don Draper is seen reading it in one sequence.  It laid the template for many movies and TV series to come that would follow a trio or more of women trying to make it in the big wide world.  SEX AND THE CITY certainly owes quite a bit to the source material of this play. Main Street Theater’s production of this work is adapted by Julie Kramer, and pushes THE BEST OF EVERYTHING into a satirical statement on the world then contrasted with the world now.  

The play concentrates on Caroline, an ambitious young Radcliffe English graduate who has been dumped by her fiance making her abandoned for a wealthy woman.  What’s a girl to do? Caroline lands a job in the typing pool of a publishing house where she meets a variety of women who are either waiting to be married or trying to claw their way up the corporate ladder by any means necessary.  At the top of the food chain is the only female editor at the company, Miss Farrow.  She’s single, ruthless, and chooses to wear a hat rather than Prada.  The show guides us through the mishaps both in the workplace and in the girls’ personal lives over the course of several years.  

Julia Oppenheim heads up this production for Main Street Theater as director, and she wisely keeps the quick and comic pacing of both the original novel and film.  It all feels light and bubbly like a champagne toast to the ‘50s, but then the drama starts to drop on the women.  While we smile at the old vintage songs and attitudes of a bygone era, we suddenly realize women today are facing the exact same struggles nearly a century later.  Her deft management of two elements gives the show a life and an appealing quality.  She has also cast the parts expertly.  

Ginger Mouton delivers a gracefully informed interpretation of Caroline, a girl who seems torn on whether love or career are going to have to be sacrificed for the other.  She has a timeless face that transports audiences easily into the past. Mouton makes for an excellent lead for this production, and she delivers a strong performance.  Skyler Sinclair makes country girl April go from naive to glamorous gal about town skillfully between two acts.  Amazing to see that character arc come to life in front of us. Amanda Martinez plays Mary Agnes, the office gossip and a matron hellbent on getting hitched.  The actress carries the comedy well throughout, and yet she has a true epiphany near the end of the play where she realizes what she has lost in only pursuing a family of her own.  Carol Germano is Brenda, another marriage-minded office worker who commands her comedy bits effortlessly.  The ensemble of women here are top-notch.  

Two Main Street Theater veterans round out the “girl power” in the show contrasting sublime comic timing with a deeper yearning that makes THE BEST OF EVERYTHING work so well.  Lindsay Ehrhadt makes the most out of “larger than life” Gregg, a coworker who aspires to move out of the office and onto the stage.  She commands any scene she’s in with a quirky sense  of a towering coquette who could be a little dangerous given the right circumstance.  Kara Greenberg gets the thankless job of taking on the “Joan Crawford” role as the icy queen named Miss Farrow.  What she does with the role though is make her both vile and likable in equal doses.  Her salty advice to Caroline drips with acidity and wisdom.  There is a heart beating in there somewhere, and we feel it.   

Funny enough there is only one man who plays all the men in New York City, whether they be in the office or from outside the publishing house.  John Johnston plays four neanderthals who range from an old crotchety boss who awkwardly gropes the women to a polished virile playboy of the theater scene in the Big City.  His best turn is probably as the puzzlingly asexual editor of a Christian magazine who engages Caroline in a “mental affair.”  The message is clear though, all the men look and act the same.  Johnston is in on the joke, and makes the most of it.  Sometimes it is hard to tell who is torturing the women, but that is entirely the point. Fritz Eagleton plays the cad who dumps Caroline, and he successfully pulls off being attractive and repulsive simultaneously.  Other men are aptly played by cardboard cutouts, merely perfect suits on hangers.  They are lothario props during a surreally funny office party.   

Technically Main Street offers up a strong presentation for THE BEST OF EVERYTHING.  Lee O. Barker’s office themed set works wonders as it wheels throughout the play in differing configurations to add movement to the space.  Jonathan Harvey’s sound design is pitch perfect in recreating the time period through song.  Rodney Walsworth’s props give extra life with some spot-on and useful notes created by something as simple as a model boat or the previously mentioned men about town. And yet the technical standout is Paige A. Wilson’s costumes.  They are so evocative of the 50s they become a supporting player throughout the evening, defining the women as much as the actors do.  

I came into THE BEST OF EVERYTHING thinking I would get a campy fun recreation of the novel and/or movie - maybe a cross of both.  That is certainly there, but what is so alarming is how well the world of 50s secretaries resonates with what we face today.  I sat there smugly thinking how the “world is a better place” for thirty minutes before it hit me.  Even though the women have dated views on marriage, age, and what a career means… not that much has changed overall.  Men are still making more money on average, women are treated to ageist views if they remain single, and they have little agency over their own bodies.  And women still pit themselves against each other in most work environments, unless there is a conscious awareness to rectify that.  The play is brilliantly funny, but it has quite a few things to say about 2023.  Main Street Theater is keeping Rona Jaffe’s conversation alive with this production.  We haven’t yet gotten THE BEST OF EVERYTHING as a society, and particularly not for women.  Yet this show certainly lives up to the title in acting, technical aspects, and strong direction.  It’s a fun evening that will make you think.    

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING runs at MAIN STREET THEATER through June 18th.  Tickets can be acquired through their website, or by contacting the box office at (713) 524-6706.  Photo is provided by Pin Lim and features Ginger Mouton and Kara Greenburg. 


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