Kay Marian McNellen and Fred Harlow in "For Better." Photo by Ken Jacques
Mixed-up connections or loaded words spoken at untimely junctures result in romantic and domestic complications in For Better, playwright Eric Coble’s breezy comedy, which relies on the cell phone not only as principal prop but metaphor for what we say to each other – or don’t say. At Scripps Ranch Theatre under the direction of Eric Poppick, a cast of six has fun with the aforementioned complications, and but for an excess of sentimentality (mostly at the conclusion), audiences will too.
Central to the consequences of cell phone-itis is Karen Baedeker (Kay Marian McNellen), who’s become giddily engaged to a man she’s met in person only twice, the rest of the courtship having been via emails, texts and phone calls. While Karen’s old-fashioned dad Wally (Fred Harlow) – this is made clear by his penchant for watching “Columbo” reruns in his bathrobe – is accepting of Karen’s unorthodox arrangement, her older sister Francine (Heidi Bridges), a Type-A know-it-all, is not. What Francine doesn’t know, by way of subplot, is that her drab husband Michael (Charles Peters) has been sexting with the very sexy Lizzie Monohan (Erica Marie Weisz, this show’s sparkler). Then there’s globetrotting Stuart Tramontane (Kenny Bordieri), who turns frantic and turns to drink when he finds out, via cell phone naturally, that the Karen he has yearned for is getting hitched to someone else.
Still with me?
OK, the narrative is jam-packed. But it’s fun when everyone’s on stage at the same time, phones in hand, engaging in one or more digital conversations. That’s also when For Better is most energized and less like your run-of-the-mill rom-com.
For Better continues through June 24.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.