For Better

By Philip Pearce

Magic Circle in Carmel Valley has launched its 2014 season with the Central Coast premiere of Eric Coble’s brisk and topical farce For Better.

It’s all about electronics—our obsessive dependence on them and the tangled relationships, mostly at a distance, that they can create.

The plot is simple enough. Karen (played by the sprightly and lovely Kristi Reimere) has had a cell phoned proposal from Max, whom she’s only met face to face once but with whom she’s been carrying on an increasingly intense cyber relationship. Friends and family weigh in from various phones and laptops, offering suggestions, support, objections, encouragement, shopping advice and mounting confusion to Karen’s marriage plans. For-Better-2

Career woman sister Francine (the incisive Penelope Morgan) signals a cool order and frugal attention to the bottom line till she explodes in rage after stumbling on some conference call hanky-panky between her wheeler-dealer spouse Michael (played with sweet-talking bombast by D. Scott McQuiston) and his ex-girlfriend Lizzie (the hilarious Sherry Kefalas, all busy bubble and bounce). Lizzie manages to field Michael’s phone advances while also advising Karen to adopt a laid-back attitude to her engagement plans. “It’s only marriage, not a big decision like buying a new car.” Meanwhile, nerdy friend Stuart (a squeaky and bespectacled Sam Fife) struggles to thwart Karen’s plans and declare his undying love over a phone that keeps cutting out from various dead spots in Uzbekistan (or is it Tajikistan?). Even Karen’s fuddy-duddy dad Wally (a crotchety and befuddled Alan Zeppa) is too obsessed with television reruns of Kojak and Archie Bunker to catch onto, let alone care a whole lot about, his daughter’s on again off again electronic courtship.

I’ve probably already given away too much, but there are lots more plot points and some particularly funny group vignettes like Reimere, Morgan and Kefalas on line shopping for Karen’s trousseau and a side-splitting trio of disastrous sales meeting product pitches by McQuiston, Morgan and Reimers.

Director Laura Cote keeps the action moving at a merry old clip and the cast shows verve and comic assurance. If I have a quibble about this delightful show, it’s the company’s occasional flights into comic overdrive. McQuiston and Fife may play their cellphoned drunk scene just a tad too high and hysterical. And I wonder if everybody caught onto Kefalas’s televangelist imitation in the closing scene.

That said, I have to confess to a strong bias in favor of this kind of fresh material compared to the succession of recycled old favorites that are too often the mainstay of community theaters elsewhere on the globe. Magic Circle deserves a big hand and sold-out houses for its practice of introducing new scripts to the Monterey theater scene.

For Better continues through March 23, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2.