Better Days, by Richard Dresser and directed by James Whitmore, is a fluently written, insightful, oh-so-relevant story of hard times befalling a hodgepodge of characters who come into focus as their story unfolds.
The setting is run-down urban New England with shades of Americana, like a boarded up fireplace and old television — the playbill itself looks like an American History 101 intro course.
Songs about hard times in search of better days have been written from time immemorial to present day. Stephen Foster, during the Civil War, wrote “Hard Times Come Again No More,” beginning with “Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears while we all sup sorrow with the poor.” More recently, rock group, Sublime sang: “I’ve seen better days / I’ve been star of many plays / I’ve seen better days and the bottom drops out.”
The play has a Sam Shepard- like eerie quality to it, covering central themes of life, survival , and sanity amidst a most horrific blight of unemployment, and macabre environment. As in Waiting for Godot, the main character Ray (Moe Irvin) has a vision on his roof, and founds the True Value Church, waiting for salvation, in the form of re-opening the factory, his place of work. His wife, Faye, (Aliah Whitmore) defines her role as a waitress, aspiring to be manager, at the aptly named Hungry Pilgrim. The only job that this group of ‘down on their luck’ misfits can attain is working for a con artist/arsonist, impeccably played by Ivan Basso.
At first, the cast of characters seems vaguely normal; by play’s end, their plight is one so absurd, that Ionesco would appreciate. They yearn for their moment of majesty, searching for nirvana, and better days.
Through August 1st at the Lyric Theatre, located at 520 N La Brea. Tickets can be purchased by calling 323.939.9220 or on the web at www.lyrictheatrela.com.