Off-Broadway Review: “A Better Place” at the Duke on 42nd Street

The current offering from The Director’s Company at the Duke on 42nd Street is a world premiere penned by Australian playwright Wendy Beckett entitled “A Better Place.” It turns out to be an urban synonym for the old suburban aphorism “the grass is always greener.” Only in this case, rather than a healthier lawn, it is a larger apartment in a luxury high rise in Manhattan. This script manages to successfully identify the basic human nature in today’s society that one is never satisfied with what they have or where they are. They always want to be in “a better place.” Unfortunately, this particular journey to get there is long, slow and predictable, offering no new insight and executed by stereotypical characters that are one dimensional. Direction by Evan Bergman seems forced at times, dealing with repetitive situations and trying to utilize dead space in empty apartments when the action is happening across the way. The scenic design of dual apartments across the street from each other by David L. Arsenault is beautifully created and spot on but, by no fault of his own, it actually overpowers the production.

The metaphor is blatant as the plot unfolds that unless you as a person are not in a good place moving to a bigger and better apartment will not change anything. The other problem that exists is the reality of some of the situations that try to drive the action forward. Very few people living in a rent controlled, doorman building in Manhattan would ever want to leave. There really is no better place. The $96,000-dollar windfall would not even cover the deposit on a closet in Manhattan, let alone leave anything to cover maintenance, taxes and insurance. The best you could hope for would be a new wardrobe, a few dinners with a Broadway show and a nice vacation. After almost all is resolved the slacker daughter is able to find a job and afford her own apartment after mom and dad sell and retire to Florida. It should all be that easy. All that said the dialogue does not move the plot or define the characters. Who cares if anyone ends up in a better place!

The cast does what they can to entertain, usually relying on forced comedic situations but there are too many obstacles to overcome so they succumb to stereotypes to produce humor. New York is a city filled with a tapestry of unique, very interesting people not concerned with suburban ideals. There are too many other opportunities and distractions. If this “better place” were located somewhere other than Manhattan perhaps it might be a bit more palatable. It just falls short of capturing a NYC state of mind.