Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
As the Press & Sun-Bulletin’s Chris Kocher said in his preview of the Chenango River Theatre’s show Last Gas, the title sounds suspiciously like “Last Gasp.” But in the clever play by John Cariani, the bittersweet ending finds lead character, Nat Paradis (played by CRT veteran Drew Kahl), taking a “Last Grasp” at happiness.
At 41, Nat dredges up the courage to leave his northern Maine home town; ditches his father, Dwight (Jim Wicker), and his job running his dad’s store; takes leave of his son, Troy (Josh Sedelmeyer), and gives up the pretense that he can find happiness with his high school sweetheart, Lurene (Traci Crouch), who came back to town to bury her mother.
In the last few minutes of the play, Nat is literally run over by changes that force him to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life. A pair of Red Sox tickets lures him out of his comfort zone to Boston, to meet up with friend Guy (Josh Carlton) and to begin the next chapter in his life.
Lurene provides the metaphor for the play as she and Nat sit outside, gazing upward into the very dark Maine skies: “Here, you can see the stars, and no one goes for them. In New York City, everyone reaches for the stars, and you can’t see them.”
The cast of Last Gas is superb, superb, superb. Cast members on opening night (July 8) took Cariani’s excellent script, applied their fine acting abilities and created characters who are completely believable and utterly sympathetic.
The play is not heavy. Cariani doesn’t hit you over the head with his message – after all, it’s billed as a comedy. The playwright has an ear for the tempo of hilarious one-liners. Currently appearing in the Broadway hit Something Rotten,” he reportedly was still fine-tuning the play, sending back script re-writes right up to opening night.
Some funny one or two-liners: “We don’t make things any more. We just make more of ourselves. That’s what we do here in the good old U.S. of A; we get fat,” says Guy.
“You’re only as young as the woman you feel,” says womanizer Dwight, “and tonight I’m young and Canadian.”
“Your son was in my house wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap,” says Troy’s mom, Cherry-Tracy Pulcifer (Dana P. Dimon) and a die-hard Boston Sox fan. “That’s piss-poor parenting!”
Sedelmeyer, making his debut at CRT, is impish, mischievous, and aggravating as only a 16-year-old can be. Quite a departure from his heart-breaking role as a young gay man in the KNOW Theater’s Visiting Mr. Green last season.
Loud applause for busy-body Cherry-Tracy (Dimon), a forest ranger who has made something of herself and never fails to proclaim that to anyone who’ll listen. She provides comic relief, butting her nose into everyone’s business and writing citations for ridiculous infractions.
And a standing ovation for Kahl, who changes character from start to finish, evolving from an insecure, repressed individual to a man ready to reach for the stars.
Hats off to director Kent Burnham, set designer Bill Lelbach (artistic and managing director of CRT), lighting designer Julie Duro, stage manager Paige Harris, costume designer Barbara Kahl and the rest of the behind-the-scenes crew for a “Class A” act.
IF YOU GO: Last Gas plays 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through July 31. The theater is located at 991 State Highway 12 in Greene. Tickets are $22-35. Call the box office at 656-8499 (TIXX), or go online to Tomorrow (July 10) is a name-your-price event, and on July 15, cast members will host a post-show talk back with the audience.