The multi-decades tale of one couple is showing at Aurora’s Vintage Theatre
The Best Day of Your Life has a familiar premise: college boy meets college girl, the two have an awkward first date and spend the following decades unexpectedly bumping into one another, each encounter ending with a haunting “what if.”
But if you come to the Vintage Theatre’s production expecting a When Harry Met Sally happy ending, you’ll be surprised. This ending is more bittersweet than Hollywood-happy – and more satisfyingly plausible.
This tightly packaged, fast-moving show is a touching study of the choices we make, the surprising ways they play out, and the myriad ways in which love sparks, matures and changes throughout our lives. It’ll definitely make you laugh, and just might make you cry.
Aurora’s Vintage Theatre is debuting this comedy/drama, written by Philip J. Kaplan and directed by Linda Suttle.
This show has just two actors – both impressive in their range. As Wanda, Veronica Straight Lingo takes most of the spotlight, in large part because her character is extroverted, dramatic and sometimes neurotic. Paul Jaquith, as Ron, does a great job of playing the awkward, more introverted and comparatively stable male lead – the perfect foil to her typically over-the-top antics. The contrast also makes Ron and Wanda a believable couple; while at first blush they seem opposites, as time passes they appear to balance one another.
The story spans 41 years of life, opening in 1979 on their first date at Lupo’s, a divey, college-town restaurant. The questionably dressed, painfully nervous Ron does his best to impress the stylish, bubbly Wanda – an aspiring restaurateur who points out Lupo’s paper napkins and dubious reputation. While this snippet from their evening is liberally sprinkled with awkwardness, the two also have some genuine moments of connection – but not enough to inspire a second date.
When we meet them again seven years later – backstage at a wedding exhibition — Ron is engaged and Wanda is deep into the emotional tailspin of a bad relationship. Wanda turns to Ron for advice, and in this fleeting encounter, sees the warm, kind – and for her the frustratingly loyal man – he’s become.
The two meet again nine years later in a fortuitously double-booked hotel room – at what appears to be the apex of an emotional crisis for the now wealthy, career-focused and highly stressed Wanda. In stark contrast, Ron is now a father of two, struggling to keep his head above financial water. Despite an argument between them, Wanda uses her financial fortune to help Ron – a generous tip of the hat to their long-standing relationship and mutual affection.
Jaquith shines in the play’s next two scenes – the first in a hospital room reserved for a cancer support group. Ron’s wife has cancer, and he’s there to lead a spousal support group. Wanda’s arrived early for a seminar. In a bit of role reversal, Ron’s emotions fill the stage as he vents his anguish over his wife’s illness and the changes it’s brought to her and their lives and Wanda steps up as the supportive ear, in the process revealing that both her career and personal lives haven’t followed the path she’d envisioned.
In an initially confusing shift, the next scene takes us back to college – a chemistry lab in 2010 where Ron’s son Chuck and Wanda’s daughter Jenny meet as lab partners (the actors play both the adults and the kids). The chemistry between them is almost immediately evident. Chuck is far from the uncertain young man his father was, and that lets Jaquith fully display his acting ability. Confident, smart and flirtatious, he’s an even match for bubbly, intelligent Jenny. While Ron and Wanda may have repeatedly missed their chances at a relationship, their children’s timing is spot on.
The play’s final scene, in 2020, takes place in a dressing room at Chuck and Jenny’s wedding. In the production’s most touching moments, Ron – whose wife has fully recovered – confesses his lifelong fantasy of a world in which Wanda is his partner, and the still-feisty, divorced and disillusioned Wanda makes an awkward and unsuccessful effort at seduction. It’s a potentially devastating scene that ends with heart-warming poignancy. Forty years after their clumsy first-date, Ron and Wanda become a family – an unexpected conclusion that is sweetly satisfying.