It isn’t always that a world premiere play captures the imagination of its audience. “The Luckiest” by playwright Melissa Ross now in its polished premiere production at the La Jolla Playhouse, Poiker Theatre through July 28th, does. It hits the audience on so many levels that by plays end, I saw more folks, men included, wiping tears away than I have seen in some time.
The 90- minute piece was developed, in part, at La Jolla Playhouse’s DNA New World Series in 2018. In notes it is suggested the play has been in in the works for about three years and while not directly paralleling the playwright’s life, she drew on her own experiences dealing with life and death matters.
Throughout our lifetimes we meet and cultivate more friendships than we can remember. But it is the luckiest among us if in real time we have one faithful and trustworthy friend, one we can count on in sickness and health, good times and bad.
|Reggie D. White and Aleque Reid|
That was how it went with Lissette (Aleque Reid) and Peter (Reggie D. White). When you have a friend who finishes sentences for you, you know they know what’s inside your head. On first meeting up with the pair in her kitchen at her New York City walkup they seemed comfortable and used to each other, but something was out of place.
Lissette was in a motorized wheel chair giving a thumbs up to Peter’s remarks as she watched him unpack party snacks filled with finger foods from three Trader Joe’s bags; assorted chips, hummus’, cheeses with truffles, chips of all variations and popcorn. Talk of a party and who’s in charge, her walkup apartment and what guests will be on hand echoed throughout the back and forth, light hearted and oft times funny chatter.
One thing that was not on the cheery side was talk of Lissette’s mother Cheryl (Deirdre Lovejoy) who until now has been left out of the conversation. She can make her famous lasagna, maybe even two. Cheryl lives in Woburn, Mass. and if you know anyone from Mass. you will recognize her accent immediately. You will also understand her ‘tude’.
Peter has his work cut out for him trying to convince her to go along with Lissette’s plan, that for the sake of not being a spoiler shall remain under wraps here.
|Deirdre Lovejoy and Reggie D. White|
The play goes back and forth in time on Tim Mackabee’s long Potiker stage/set with scant furniture in each of what are different playing areas. We enter pretty much before Lissette’s going away party and segue back to another time and how we got here.
It is in the different playing areas that Peter’s friendship is challenged; his life’s story plays out as we learn about his own family and to reassure any romantic interest or not he is gay. Yes, talk of his on again off again dates come in to play and how he and Lissette first met.
His meetings with Cheryl, also in a neutral playing area, are frustrating at best, but reassuring at times that his acceptance of Lissette’s last wish and list of ‘wants’ comes at a price of the ultimate meaning of their friendship. Peter gets it.
|Aleque Reid and Deirdre Lovejoy|
IT is the definitive decision Lissette has made on how to go forward with her life as in live with a debilitating illness or not.
IT is how to get the idea into Cheryl’s head without a final showdown.
IT is the test of a true friendship without being maudlin.
IT is putting up with a bad -ass friend that requires the ultimate dedication to carry out your last wishes by getting you dressed in a shimmery cocktail dress and high- heeled shoes that you will never walk in.
IT is showing up.
The -you -know -what hits the fan when Lissette breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience the diagnosis as told her by the doctors after a long put off visit when she was falling for no apparent reason. Peter and the audience find out for the first time the name of the disease, the prognosis and the final outcome as a result. She is on solid ground with her monologue.
|Reggie D. White and Aleque Reid|
Under the astute direction of Jamie Castañeda and an all time ultimate trio of actors, “The Luckiest” plays out in a push me pull you series of emotional pulls that test not only the friendships of outside friends but the trust of parents to let their adult children find their own paths knowing that we can’t stop the rain from falling, or influence their thinking when the mind is of its own.
Aleque Reid plays the sassy Lissette with panache and flair while Reggie D. White’s Peter wears a multi-layered cloth of moods from anger to understanding of Lissette’s needs, to actual sympathy for Cheryl. As for Deidre Lovejoy’s Cheryl, her motherly instincts kicked in immediately rubbing everyone the wrong way, hard as nails and softening and coming around to her daughters wishes. Most likely it comes at a cost to her emotional core.
Denista Bliznakova designed the contemporary clothes. The lighting by Lap Chi Chu and composer and sound design by Ryan Rumery add to the overall quality of the production.
“Luck be a lady” and Lissete is the luckiest to have the support of both family and Peter in Melissa Ross’ “The Luckiest”
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through July 28th
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Production Type: Drama
Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Dr. La Jolla, CA 92037
Ticket Prices: Start at $39.00
Venue: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre
Photo: Jim Carmody