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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

What's that old saying?

You should pick a doctor who's the same age so that the two of you can grow old together?

Jessica Goldberg's world premiere "Better" at the Echo Theater Company, has me thinking that the same is true about playwrights. Ms. Goldberg is a playwright I'm excited to growing old with.

To explain that let me rewind roughly 15 years. Ms. Goldberg was one of a group of exciting, young female playwrights in Los Angeles. In 2001, I had the pleasure of producing her play "Good Thing" for Center Theater Group. The play circled around a group of young people on the cusp of adulthood grappling with what it might mean to be parents - to give up youth and do a "Good Thing."

In search of a living wage and the stability to raise their own families, Ms. Goldberg and these other promising female playwrights migrated to the greener pastures of film and television. Life and families happened which brings us to today and Ms. Goldberg's new play.

"Better" is a 'homecoming under duress' play in the tradition of "The Seagull" or "The Cherry Orchard", "August Osage County", "The Big Chill" - you know the genre? Annie is our protagonist. She's quickly approaching 40 and from the outside she'd seem to be pretty successful and happy. She runs her own restaurant in New York, has a beautiful child, a charismatic and successful husband but . . . we all know looks can be deceiving.

The play's inciting incident is her Dad's on his death bed. She makes a trip home to the mid-west to be with her family: her Mom's a stoic wreck, her 93 year old grandmother is senile and keeps mistaking her sick son for her dead husband, and her jock younger brother is mixed up in a steroid trial. Round out the ensemble with Annie's high school crush Frank who married and divorced the crazy but sexy Missy. It's sort of like a weekend home from college but everyone's 20 years older and grappling with mortality. It's that delicate balance of comedy and pathos maybe best captured by a folksong from the show "nothing good happens when you're over 30."

"Better" is surprisingly similar to Ms. Goldberg's earlier "Good Thing." At their hearts, both plays are about a group of people grappling with expectation and trying to weigh the excitement of the moment with something bigger, something more substantial. What's changed is life. Where the earlier play revolved around the monumental idea of having a child, children are just one part of the equation in "Better." There are children, marriages, affairs, legacy, death - all the things that make life rich and challenging.

What's exciting is to experience a playwright, an artist, grappling with what makes a life meaningful. To notice, through her words how your own life has morphed. To witness how life, however challenging, has made Ms. Goldberg a more complicated playwright.

"Better" plays at the Echo Theater Company in Atwater Village through November 16th.

For info on the show and to join the conversation: check out kcrw.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running Time: 90 minutes without an intermission.

Banner Image Credit: Darrett Sanders

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