There is something wonderfully effortless about “The Last Wide Open,” which had its world premiere at the Playhouse in the Park Thursday evening.
That’s not a very compelling description, I know. But it’s a compliment. You see, Audrey Cefaly’s play defies all those laws of time and logic that we grew up with. It’s a play that should, by all rights, be utterly confusing. And, I suppose, if you’re one of those people who insists on grasping every last shred of reason out of a script, it still can be.
But why would you go to the theater and battle the playwright? This is the person you’ve asked to take you on a journey. Give in. Trust your playwright. Give yourself a chance to be enriched by the ride. And what an enchanting ride Cefaly and her cast – and director Blake Robison – take us on.
It all takes place in a small Italian restaurant called Frankie’s. There are just two characters; Lina and Roberto. He’s an Italian immigrant, while she is someone always wanting something she doesn’t have. That has the makings of a story. But Cefaly isn’t content with that. She’s leading us into an adventure.
“The Last Wide Open,” you see, is more than a love story. It is three variations on the same story. All three take place on the same day in the same place. What does that mean, exactly? Well, in the first section of the play, Roberto has spent five years as a dishwasher at Frankie’s. In the second, he’s still the same man, but he is a teacher who is helping out at his uncle’s restaurant – Frankie’s. In the third, he is a bus boy who has only just arrived in America. We meet three different faces of Lina, too; as an impatient, directionless server, a nurse and finally, a part-time server who is a week away from being married.
Confused? Probably, because this sounds much more complicated on paper than when it is played out in front of us. Cefaly has created characters who are, in many ways, just like the rest of us. Sure, there are actorly demands. But Lina and Roberto are people coping with anxiety, longing, uncertainty and the greatest burden of all, trying to find meaning in the humdrum of everyday life.
Is there sadness? Definitely. And apprehension and anger, too. And love? We hope there will be, because by the time we’re a few minutes into the play, we really like these characters. A lot. Kimberly Gilbert (Lina) is a bundle of . . . well, I was going to say “nerves.” That’s true. But there is so much more. Not only does she feel immobilized by the pressures of life, but she is also in a constant dither. Her greatest pride, it seems, is in the precision with which she mops the restaurant floor. And as Roberto, Marcus Kyd seems unflappable, no matter how muddled and chaotic the situation around him. Perhaps he has learned that, as a man with only a rough understanding of English, the safest way to proceed is to smile a lot. And nod occasionally. And be charming.
Oh – there is one more person on the stage, as well. Debra Hildebrand is the chief of the theater’s properties running crew. She’s the one in charge of making sure all that “stuff” on the stage is in the right place at the right time. Usually, the role would have her hidden backstage. But Cefaly wants everyone to be a part of the mix. So Hildebrand wanders in and out at significant moments, moving errant forks or handing the actors musical instruments – just being there when she’s needed. And she has a lovely presence, like a favorite aunt wafting in and out of the room.
There are a handful of songs, too. Written by Matthew M. Nielson, they’re not big musical numbers. They’re more like musical ruminations, except that they’re funnier and more clever than that description makes them sound.
“The Last Wide Open” is much harder to describe than it is to experience. Remember, it’s “effortless,” even in its unusual dramatic format. Should it be three separate plays? Played by separate actors? Who knows? That’s up to Cefaly. And the world she chooses to wrap us all up in is one that manages to be mystical and real. And charming. As I mentioned earlier, trust her. And trust her writing. And while you’re at it, trust her characters, too, no matter where they take us.
Read the full review from the Cincinnati.com here.