Five different people in The Best of Everything refer to the play’s main character, Caroline (the poised Sarah Wilson), as “ambitious.” Like Brutus, they don’t quite mean it as a compliment. It is the early 1950s, and our heroine—a recent Radcliffe graduate who’s smarting from a broken engagement with a feckless bounder (Jordan Geiger)—has taken a job as a secretary at Fabian Publishing. The company squeezes out titillating pulp novels, but its steno pool is suffused with the chlorine of conventional sexual wisdom. “There are only two ways to live, the right way and the wrong way,” advises the office gossip (Molly Lloyd). The right way leads to a husband, but the wrong way means despair: loneliness, humiliation, abortion, even death.
Adapted from Rona Jaffe’s best-selling 1958 book, Julie Kramer’s stage play takes a knowing, lightly ironical approach to Jaffe’s pre-liberation depiction of single ladies in the big city. It’s Stage Door in a Mad Men world, with a jigger of Peyton Place, and Kramer treats its soapiness like a bubble bath whose froth conceals some pretty dirty water. The men in the story are mostly cads—handsy bosses, careless wolves—and the exception, Mike (Tom O’Keefe), is a drunk; Caroline’s only female role model at work is the rigid, defensive Miss Farrow. (Amy Wilson plays her with a hint of the honeyed chill that Joan Crawford brought to the 1959 film version.) Since Caroline is a bit of a stiff, most of the show’s fun comes from the more lurid supporting characters: farm girl April (the cherubic Alicia Sable, bursting like popcorn), whose naïveté gets her into trouble, and glamour girl Gregg (Hayley Treider), who goes from loose to unscrewed. Notwithstanding Kramer’s barbed new ending, The Best of Everything doesn’t go very deep, but $18 is a bargain fare for this stylish antinostalgia trip. And as Caroline learns, you can’t necessarily have it all.—Adam Feldman
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