A Black man in a blue shirt and tan trousers sits on a bar stool. A white woman in ripped black jeans, a black top, and with a yellow-and-plaid flannel shirt wrapped around her waist, sits next to him. They are both looking at a penny the man is holding up. The lighting is blueish, as if in a dimly lit bar.
Christopher Wayland and Cassidy Slaughter-Mason in The Luckiest at Raven Theatre Credit: Michael Brosilow

When everyone on the stage is excellent, it shows a director fully in command of the material. That’s the case with Cody Estle’s production of The Luckiest by Melissa Ross, receiving its Chicago premiere at the Raven Theatre. Plays about a young woman’s disability and impending death always risk straying into Love Story-style bathos, while pieces involving a straight woman and her gay male best friend can easily seem copied from Will & Grace. But Ross, incredibly, has fresh takes to offer both on their relationship and on the health crisis which comes to dominate their lives, and she introduces Lissette’s lasagna-making mother into the mix without turning her and her Boston accent into a cliché of maternal overreach. 

The Luckiest
Through 6/26: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; open captions Sun 6/5; Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, 773-338-2177, raventheatre.com, $40 (students/military/veterans $15).

As Lissette, the over-the-top protagonist who contracts ALS in her 30s, Cassidy Slaughter-Mason brings just the right amount of manic energy to a role which could easily become grating. Similarly, Tara Mallen brings Cheryl, Lissette’s mother, to life with such genuineness and humor that we can see both what Lissette has inherited and what she’s been desperate to escape. These two are ably supported by Christopher Wayland as Lissette’s best friend Peter. That makes his role sound smaller than it is—big moments are spread pretty evenly among the three of them, and their ensemble work is never anything less than generously collaborative—but what a pleasure it is to see a piece with women at the center and a man playing straight (so to speak).