Friendship is a powerful and life-affirming force, but it can crack under just the right set of pressures. This condition is at the center of Lia Romeo’s subtle and contemplative new play, “The Lucky Ones,” now receiving a delicate staging at Summit’s Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre. It is a play about relationships and the tensions that define and challenge them, wondering openly about how individual responses to crises can reverberate through the lives of others.
At the center of play are forty-something best friends Janie (Laura Ekstrand) and Vanessa (Harriett Trangucci) whose relationship finds itself newly beset by Vanessa’s sudden diagnosis of stage-four cancer. By all accounts, Janie is the only important figure in Vanessa’s life, and so the responsibility falls on her to visit the hospital in the difficult task of keeping the patient’s spirits up.
It is a role reversal for the two: throughout their friendship that started in college, ebullient Vanessa has buoyed wallflower Janie, an urge that she continues to indulge while sick by playing the cancer card in order to force Janie to revive her online dating profile. Janie meets a nice enough man, gets a bit excited about the possibilities, and soon is a less-regular visitor to the hospital than Vanessa would prefer. The question of Janie’s commitments breeds tension, and Romeo’s play wonders about the strength and importance of friendship during harrowing conditions.
The third member of this small cast is Scott McGowan, billed simply as “The Man,” and tasked with two significant roles, and several smaller ones. He is Vanessa’s doctor and Janie’s dating interest; he is also a variety of disposable online dating bozos, the meditation app guru that Janie hopes will help her clear her mind, and a stoner version of cosmic forces.
What seems at first like casting efficiency ultimately helps give dimension to the play’s examination of female friendship. McGowan’s characters are important, and he does impressive work to give them all distinction, but the unifying force of his work is the force of masculinity entering the dynamic of female friendship. Sometimes that force is innocuous, and occasionally it is helpful, but it always has the potential to disrupt, to drive a wedge in the established union between Janie and Vanessa. The play is particularly concerned with how the two respond to this challenging force.
Under the direction of Betsy True, each of these three performers respond in fine form to the challenges Romeo lays for them. McGowan must do hard work of creating several distinct characters, but Ekstrand and Trangucci have considerable tasks on their plates as well.
The 75-minute play runs on the energy of a long friendship, so the women at its center need to evoke that history in very brief time. Part of their success in doing so comes from Romeo not painting overly complex portraits of either character, but Ekstrand and Trangucci nonetheless evoke clear senses of history between the two characters and emotional investments in each other’s life.
This is a story where potentially catastrophic disease tries to demand centerstage, but Romeo and this cast will not let the gloom of death overcome a valuable reflection on life. What results is a careful reflection on friendship and values in the face of trauma, staged with a meditative consideration.
THE LUCKY ONES
Dreamcatcher Repertory Theater
120 Morris Avenue, Summit
Running through October 13
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