note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Against an orange sunset and silhouetted figures, trees and overhanging vines, mysterious, creepy music marks the opening of acclaimed stage, screen and TV writer Richard Vetere’s two-act, three-person play, “Last Day” at Gloucester Stage Company.
The title has multi-layered symbolism that becomes revealed - and obfuscated - as this seemingly simple plot progresses. As Vetere leads us down a mysterious garden path, he creates mounting suspicion and more holes than his two gravediggers unearth in their Long Island cemetery. And there’s a sudden run on dead Catholics, they crack.
Early on, we learn gravediggers Sean (Francisco Solorzano) and Ryan (Timothy John Smith) are longtime best friends. It’s Ryan’s last day on the job at St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery in Queens, because he’s retiring. However, the sudden flurry of dead Catholics requiring burial has created an eruption to Ryan’s leaving peacefully.
Ten years ago, Ryan lost his temper with his former boss, Billy Sr., and whacked him with his shovel, killing him. In the middle of the night, he called Sean to bury Billy Sr. in a hallowed, unused section, but the distraught Sean instead buried Billy where Ryan killed him, under a willow tree, in Section 15. That’s where the ground will be broken for fresh burials, thus exposing Billy’s corpse - and Ryan’s murder.
The cantankerous, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, lewd Billy Sr. was declared a missing person, and his son, Billy Jr., who’s studying to be a cop, has nosed around the cemetery for clues. Sean, a tender-hearted, conscience-ridden Catholic who attends Mass almost every Sunday and is married to sexy, hard-boiled Melissa (Therese Plaehn), benefited from Billy’s disappearance by getting his job and house, rent-free.
During the 1-1/2-hour production, Vetere shovels out intertwining implications about this trio’s inter-relationship and to Billy Sr. As they plot to exhume Billy’s bones and replant him in the holy, hallowed section of the cemetery, Sean becomes increasingly nervous and suspicious, especially after a town drunk wanders into the cemetery and Ryan decides he must be killed because the drunk has seen them.
Ryan utters this is his last day on the job, and he’s going where Sean and nobody else can go. Besides, Ryan and Sean don’t want to spend the rest of their days in prison. And what about Melissa?
Vetere exposes each character’s weaknesses and strengths in several dramatic scenes, but leaves a trail of questionable clues.
Regardless, under Artistic Director Eric Engel’s deft direction, the cast buries the script’s flaws. Also, John R. Malinowski’s lighting and Jenna McFarland Lord’s bleak set enhance the creepy cemetery ambience.
At the theater, visit the exhibition of photographers Wendie DeMuth and David C. Somers and Brenda Malloy’s paintings.
BOX INFO: World premiere of Richard Vetere’s two-act play, directed by Eric Engel, appearing through August 7 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St., Gloucester, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. Tickets are $37; seniors, students, $32. Call the Box Office at 978-281-4433 or visit www.gloucesterstage.org.