It’s certainly not an accident that the dusty old hardcover that sits atop the dresser in Cold Basement Dramatics’ At His Best is The Tell-Tale Heart. The new play by Cassandra Rose, like the eerie Edgar Allen Poe classic, scours the dark places a haunting secret can lead. Instead of tucked under the floorboards, the truth in this story is hidden in a past we watch in neat parallel with the modern day story arc of Caroline (Elee Schrock) and her fiancé, Tom (Kevin Fanshaw). When the couple gets an unexpected visitor (Robert Koon) on the eve of their wedding, secrets start spilling for the contemporary characters and their generation-removed counterparts: Caroline’s mother, Ann (Laura Barati) and father, Freddy (Ed Porter), who occupied the same apartment years earlier, and friend Brogan (Rob Vignisson).
The complexity of secrets is Cold Basement’s signature subject matter, though in its attempt to wield that emotional power in this show the crowded, and at times unbelievable, script pushes too hard. As trusting Caroline, Schrock animates her character’s deep-seated longing for the truth with brightness and control. Barati, as her mother, doesn’t evolve as naturally in her scenes, but isn’t without her own spark—albeit a sometimes heavy-handed one. It’s Koon’s character that knits the parallel storylines together, and his performance is comfortable and familiar, but, like the play itself, doesn’t build in the plausible way it could. Murky tone and lopsided development aside, Best crafts an enticing narrative and solid characters worth investing in. But overall, At His Could Be Better might be a more appropriate estimation.