The Best of Everything, now at Little Lake Theatre, is the type of community-theater-friendly production that could easily turn soapy. The 2012 play revolves around a secretary who strives to achieve editor status (and love) while working at a New York publishing house in the early 1950s. But as directed by new Little Lake Artistic Director Roxy MtJoy, the play shrugs off the limitations of its setting and reminds us that not only do glass ceilings still exist in the corporate world, but they sometimes appear on stages, as well (if not on this one).
It's difficult not to compare Caroline Bender (Jane Joseph), the lead of The Best of Everything, to Mad Men's Peggy Olson. The two are ambitious young women at prestigious, male-dominated New York businesses. As if inviting the comparison, Little Lake bills the production as "set in the Mad Men era."
What sets this story apart from the litany of period pieces about urbane mid-20th-century America — other than the fact that playwright Julie Kramer based her script on a text from the era, Rona Jaffe's eponymous 1958 novel — is its diverse collection of female characters. Most are secretaries, yes; but they aren't mere background gossipers, as they're so often depicted.
There's Amanda, the sole female editor. Hollie Kawecki plays her with brutal honesty — and the occasional hint of a love so tough that no one attempts to coax it out. And there's Gregg (Lindsey Bowes), the struggling actor who's prone to bouts of obsession and delusion. The most ostensibly stereotypical secretary is Mary Agnes, but Teresa Madden Harrold has such a charming presence that when she reveals she "hates to read," her candor is winsome rather than repellent.
There are more women, each a full personality instead of a cardboard cutout (which some of the male parts are, in the most literal sense). The Best of Everything suffers from a somewhat melodramatic script, but it's rife with lively roles for women, and the Little Lake production allows each of its actors to inhabit them in her own style.