Saturday, December 17, 2022

Last Call - A Plays and Playwrights Memory

When I was reviewing theater, it was almost never the case that I had read the script for a brand new play before I saw it performed. But Kelly McAllister's Last Call is the rare exception to that rule. It was part of the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival, and as it happened that was the second year that I was an adjudicator. That meant that, working with two other people, I evaluated 30 applicants to the festival. One of them was Last Call, for which a very early draft of the script--I think it was only the first act--was submitted. Even in relatively raw form I loved this play, saw that it could really work, and would be a great fit for FringeNYC. My two colleagues agreed with me, and Last Call made it into the festival.

At some planning meeting subsequent to adjudication, actor Jack Halpin let a bunch of us know that he would be appearing in Last Call, and that he would be naked in it. Armed with that information, I decided not to bring my 16-year-old niece to see it, and that's why uncharacteristically I went to Last Call alone. It was performed at Theater for the New City, which provided several festival venues that summer. As you'll see below, I loved it. Within a few days I introduced myself to Kelly at another FringeNYC show and told him we wanted to publish the script in Plays and Playwrights 2003. review -  August 15, 2002

I hope it doesn't trivialize the events of 9/11 to say that they were a wake-up call for a lot of people, but I think that's true. It's certainly one of the themes of Kelly McAllister's stunning new play Last Call. Set in a bar in a suburban California town, Last Call tells the story of a group of friends who have known each other all their lives. Now in their mid-thirties, they seem to be stuck in ruts, professionally, personally, and emotionally; the dreams and ideals of their youth seem far away, if not entirely lost. Suddenly, David, the friend who "made good"—got a high-powered job and moved to New York City—returns, and like a modern-day Hickey (from O'Neill's Iceman Cometh) he sets out to free his barfly friends from the illusions that have them trapped.

Trouble is, David's pals' illusions are achingly, bitterly real: they're the soiled fabric of real life—unrequited love affairs, unsatisfying jobs, unhappy marriages. David works hard to shock these people out of their inertia (one of the things he does is take off all his clothes; there is a bit of frontal nudity in this play). His own catharsis came three months after the World Trade Center attacks, when he contemplated suicide on a subway platform; after all the carnage and loss, he thought, how could buying and selling and talking and trading matter?

David's reappearance in town catalyzes everybody into violent reaction, though how much finally changes among them is uncertain. McAllister shrewdly keeps David somewhat shadowy; the protagonist of the play is probably Jerry, the friend whose life seems to be most stunted (his big news during the past ten years was that he moved out of his parents' house into their garage). And the leading character of Last Call is neither of the above: he's a sad, damaged fellow named Jack, another friend, who lost the love of his life in a car crash fifteen years before and has never quite recovered. Space doesn't permit me to introduce the rest of the circle to you here; suffice to say that McAllister has created people we understand and care about.

Last Call is beautifully written: it's messy and poetic, like life. This production, directed by Jerry McAllister and produced by Hope Theatre, is spectacularly good. The cast is excellent: Jack Halpin (Jack), Matthew Rankin (Jerry), Brett Christensen (David), and Christine Goodman, R. Paul Hamilton, John Patrick Nord, Vinnie Penna, Masha Sapron, and Sara Thigpen. This one deserves a life after FringeNYC (but go ahead and see it now, just in case.)


I got to know Kelly and many of the Last Call cast members very well and nearly twenty years later I'm still mostly in touch with them. Kelly wrote several lovely plays in the years that followed, including Muse of Fire (2003), Burning the Old Man (2004, which was the first winner of Best Full-Length Script at the New York Innovative Theater Awards), Some Unfortunate Hour (2005), Fenway (2006; an adaptation of Uncle Vanya), and April's Fool (2014). For a long time, Kelly was also one of's reviewers, and he wrote the Foreword to Plays and Playwrights 2011.

Kelly moved to Colorado about ten years ago, and there he has his own indie theater company, teaches acting to kids and adults, and has produced and directed a wide range of plays and musicals. I miss seeing him, but knowing that he's continuing his high-energy humanist practice of theater a couple of thousand miles away from New York is reassuring.

No comments:

Post a Comment