Doug Sample works at a gas/convenience store, and he is not happy about that. In fact he is not happy about anything in his life, he is actually very depressed. So he has decided that he is going to do something about it: at the end of his shift he is going to kill himself. However, in lieu of writing a suicide note, Doug explains himself to the owner, Mrs. Debestani, via the security cameras that she has installed in the Gas-N-Get. Doug’s ramblings traverse his opinions on customers at the Gas-N-Get, flashbacks to his past and dream sequences – including back-up dancers – all the while debating the merits of whether or not he should kill himself.
Wayne Rawley’s script is clever, with larger than life characters, a rather accurate portrayal of working a service/retail job and more than a handful of funny moments. However, director JJ Mayes fails to establish a consistent convention to differentiate between the fantasy/flash back scenes and the real time scenes which causes confusion. Especially in the second act where the line between reality and fantasy becomes so blurred that a couple of scenes are played out twice with drastically different results, yet only vague guidance is given to the audience to interpret what happened. This coupled with a technical inconsistency at the end – script not production issue that I don’t want to discuss in depth so as not to ruin the ending – lessoned the impact from what could have been a very powerful ending.
David Knutson’s set design facilitated the progress of the play beautifully, providing enough entry and exit points for the entire ensemble to come and go at will without slowing down the pacing. Yancey Dunham’s lighting design tried valiantly to provide differentiation between flash back, fantasy and current scenes and was largely successful in the first act. Mayes and Dunham were able to create a couple of very cinematic style montages that were visually very effective. Unfortunately, the design was not as successful in the second act. Jaime Robledo’s sound design also lacked consistency as there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when the chime on the front door would sound. For some customers it chimed both when they entered and exited and for others only when they entered. With a script that jumps around in time – not to mention into Paul’s imagination – these inconsistencies were not only distracting but confused the general telling of the story.
Despite these issues, this play provides an interesting commentary on a difficult subject. As Doug works his way through the moments in his life that have led him to his current decision we see each damning piece of the puzzle fall into place. But we also see moments of encouragement and hope that are at first rejected outright, but slowly start to break through Doug’s barriers to create the mental tug-of-war that will determine how his shift will end.
The cast does a great job. Pete Caslavka as Doug has a great range and some of his more vulnerable moments are very touching. The rest of the cast works as an ensemble filling in the sundry characters that come in and out of the Gas-N-Get. Peter Fluet was hysterical as the Circle K Worker and Joseph Beck and Michelle Gardner were equally as good as Doug’s parents. In general the men did a better job of creating completely different personas for each new role that they played. However, to be fair, the men were provided with a much more diverse range of characters than the women so they did have that advantage.
“Live From the Last Night of My Life” is an intriguing, bittersweet journey through the most pivotal night in one man’s life. This production happens to get a little lost while on that journey. You wind up at the end, but you’re not quite sure that you should be there.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News