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Review: Curious Explores the Meaning of Family in Your Best One

John Jurcheck and Karen Slack in Your Best One.
John Jurcheck and Karen Slack in Your Best One.
Michael Ensminger
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We’ve met this family before: cantankerous Oscar grumbling in front of the television; his son, Richard, a practical-minded and emotionally subdued doctor whose lover, David, left him when Richard dithered too long about adopting a child; and daughter Laura, a successful businesswoman living in Shanghai, intent on avoiding her father — as she did her dying mother eight years earlier to maintain her equilibrium. Playwright Meridith Friedman introduced us to these folks, their struggles and contradictions, in The Luckiest People, which had its world premiere at Curious Theatre Company a year ago.

Friedman’s relationship with Curious dates back almost a decade. In 2010, she had a residency there; four years later, she and artistic director Chip Walton received a commission from the National New Play Network to develop The Luckiest People. Now the company is mounting Your Best One, a sequel and another world premiere, and it’s a pleasure to encounter these characters again and deepen our understanding of them.

This is a quiet, deep story about parents and children, what constitutes family, people groping for love and not quite sure that they can find it in each other, or even that they deserve it — and director Dee Covington allows it to unfold gently in all its unsentimental sweetness. The core characters are the same as before, and at the same time changed. Richard, who once balked at the idea of Oscar coming to live with him, urges his father to do exactly that. Ever dutiful, he tends to his father while longing for the love he once had with David. Erik Sandvold’s strong, restrained performance as Richard provides the backbone of the evening. Josh, the child Richard hesitated too long to adopt, appears as a teenager, cocky, vulnerable and devoted to his adoptive dad while at the same time stirring up various kinds of trouble. John Jurcheck does well as David, the loving and exasperated father, and Colin Covert gives a charming, lively performance in the role of Josh. Laura, a loud and animated Karen Slack, who occasionally cracks to reveal the character’s vulnerability, is fighting her (never seen) Chinese husband for custody of their young child.

Oscar, with his endless complaints and meaningless little eruptions of rage, is the most detailed and lovingly drawn character in the script; Randy Moore plays him, and when he’s on stage, everything quickens to life. Moore is so present and grounded that you find yourself mesmerized just watching him eat a sandwich or jamming his fingers angrily at the television remote. When self-centered, cranky Oscar is faced with a family crisis, he makes an extraordinarily generous offer. To paraphrase Shakespeare: Who would have thought the old man had so much love in him? But while I found this moment touching, I had a little trouble buying Oscar’s gesture — and also absorbing what it revealed about the family’s enormous wealth.

Your Best One stands well on it own, but it works even better if you remember The Luckiest People. Over the past three years, Curious has been selecting interesting writers for the company’s serial storytelling project — Quiara Alegría Hudes and Tarell Alvin McCraney among them — and presenting a trio of each writer’s plays. I’m anxious to see what happens when Friedman unveils the last work in her trilogy.

Your Best One, presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 10, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org.

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