How do we deal with the loss of a friend? What about a lifelong best friend? That question is often complicated when the loss takes place after a falling out. Sadly, it is often when it is too late to express it to that friend that we finally find exactly what they actually meant to us.
Thomas, a celebrated author, is facing this very situation as he struggles to write the eulogy for his best friend Alvin, an eccentric bookseller who has died under mysterious circumstances. Did he jump from the bridge? Did he somehow fall? We may never know. And neither will Thomas, played beautifully by Josh Martin in the Historic Smoot Theatre’s production of The Story of My Life by Neil Bartran and Brian Hill. As Thomas starts and scraps draft after draft, he’s haunted by Alvin, played brilliantly by RJ Lowe. Alvin keeps reminding Thomas to “write what you know”, which drives Thomas crazy because of what he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know about what happened in the week since he last saw his old friend. Their last time together was, oddly enough, at the funeral of Alvin’s father, at which Thomas was supposed to present the eulogy also. That didn’t work out and the two men part badly.
This is one of those stories that could be a maudlin sob-fest, but the script is equal parts humor, nostalgia, and sadness, with a healthy dose of the frustration that comes from not knowing what we are and mean to ourselves and others and, even when we figure it out, how to communicate that to each other. Add to that the perfection of the performances of Lowe and Martin, both of whom hit all the right notes, pardon the pun, and you have the makings of a powerful show. They don’t allow the humorous bits to grow to the point of parody and the heart-tugging elements are played with the appropriate aplomb so that we feel great compassion for each character but don’t get to the point of feeling sorry for them.
Anyone who has followed my reviews knows I’m a huge fan of RJ Lowe. I think he’s a treasure for the theatre community of our valley. He’s usually, in my view, the highlight of anything he’s in. But in this case, his one and only castmate, Josh Martin, more than holds up his end of the show. It would be a disaster if one of the two characters were way stronger than the other, but there’s no fear of that. They work so well together it’s easy to forget they’re acting or that they aren’t these two lifelong best friends in real life. And it’s good that they are so strong because if they weren’t, there are no fancy sets, props, or special effects to distract the audience. It’s just Lowe, Martin, and a bare set consisting of a metal lectern, a library rolling ladder, a bookshelf, and a table and chair. But it works, because they work. And they work beautifully. See this show.
But you better hurry. There is exactly one chance. The single performance is this Saturday, November 2 at 8:00 pm on the stage of the Historic Smoot Theatre. Tickets are $15 and worth every penny. To get tickets, go to smoottheatre.com or call the box office at 304-422-PLAY (7529). Tell them I sent you. You won’t get anything out of it but do it anyway.