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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 23, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 38
Laugh-out-loud play about death is a winning combination
Arts & Entertainment
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Laugh-out-loud play about death is a winning combination

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Live! From the Last Night of My Life
Theater Schmeater
Through October 15


For a play about a depressed convenience store clerk who has determined he wants to kill himself at the end of his shift, this is one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud evenings that has hit our stages in quite a while! Live! From the Last Night of My Life is a fantastic journey now presenting at Theater Schmeater.

Wayne Rawley returns to The Schmee (he created Money & Run shows last century) with a kick-ass cast and his meticulous crafted play. Rawley's facility with dialogue is tremendous. He hears and remembers and recreates real speech and realistic characters.

Yet, it's quite a fantasy ride for young Doug Sample (an intense and funny and intelligent and mono-focused Ryan Higgins) as he details his decision to the store security cameras. Doug remembers his relationship with Beth (sympathetic Heather Gautschi) from age 12 to last year's debilitating breakup, and flashbacks recreate some of his memories. He also has an unnatural affection for the movie Grease and for John Travolta in his many hit films. Eventually Danny Zuko and even John Travolta himself show up to talk him out of his suicidal intentions.

A bright white convenience store greets you as you walk to your seats. You are just outside of large, clear windows, where you can hear and see everything inside the meticulously recreated store (designed by detail-crazy Michael Mowery). There's a working cash register, and possibly even a working lotto machine under the counter.

Ensemble member Katie Driscoll starts the evening with an unforgettable character, Sharon Louise Louis, who is Doug's immediate supervisor, though she's younger than he is. Her absolute adherence to convenience store protocol and her insistence on making sure he knows who is boss is hysterical. They could have done a whole play, just the two of them, and we would have been happy.

Once Doug is alone in the store, he begins to narrate his decision-making process to the store cameras. As he does so, he is constantly interrupted by his memories and his fantasies.

We meet convenience store denizens who take free condiments though they buy no hot dogs, and a running gag with people getting gas yelling outside for the pump number. Sound designers Rawley and Larry A. Ryan provide all kinds of popular music and sound effects that keep the ambiance of the store front and center.

Excellent ensemble members morph into these and key characters in Doug's life like his mother and father (Alyson Bedford and James Weidman), good friend Paula (Samie Detzer), who clearly likes Doug yet has resigned herself to best friend status, Danny Zuko (Jason Sharp), and John Travolta (Corey McDaniel). Yet, each (including Ashley Bagwell) also plays multiple funny characters. Johnny Patchamatla's presence is front and center through a mad cut-out beer promotion.

Director Rawley keeps the energy high with support from choreographer Kerry Christianson (a re-creation from the film Fame and & a roller skate number?). Steve Cooper's lighting for fantasies and memories is key to helping focus our attention.

Despite the hi-jinks and humor, there is a deep understanding of despair that also runs through the play, and the knowledge of how hard it can be to dissuade someone for whom all positive arguments are moot. Even with all the laughter, a turn of a clock reminds the audience and Doug of his appointment with death.

For more information, go to www.schmeater.org or call 206-324-5801.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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