note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Susan Daniels
You couldn’t get two performers with more different backgrounds than Mandy Patinkin and Taylor Mac. Broadway baby Patinkin, who won a Tony for his debut performance in “Evita,” and out-of-the-box, fringe performer Mac, named Best Theater Actor in New York by the Village Voice in 2013, are the yin and yang of “The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville, running through May 31st at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge. As the sole survivors of a global, climatically-induced flood, these two characters wash up on a desert island where they communicate through song and dance and test the waters (pun intended) of their various vulnerabilities. At odds to begin with, they grow and flourish, ultimately, becoming each other’s soul survivor.
In this debut performance under the umbrella of American Repertory Theater, “The Last Two People On Earth” is a perfect platform for Patinkin and Mac. Conceived by this dynamic duo, along with musical director/conductor Paul Ford and director/choreographer Susan Stroman, the sing-through production, which was developed over many years, takes us through a musical journey with song selections as diverse as the composers/lyricists the show draws upon --Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hammerstein II, Paul Simon, Freddie Mercury, Gilbert & Sullivan, even Mac and Ford . . . to name a few of the over two dozen songsmiths listed in the program.
Integrating a cane and bowler hat as well as numerous other props, Stroman seamlessly works her magic from concept to conclusion as the two protagonists communicate through music and movement. A five-time Tony Award winner (“The Producers,” “Contact,” among others), she brings it home again with vaudevillian and silent film flourishes that infuse the plot in her trademark organic style.
Both Patinkin and Mac like to tell a story through song; and Ford, a Sondheim specialist and savant of Broadway’s music, has delivered a wonderful package, allowing these two winning actors to shine.
As the older, crotchety character, Patinkin is closed off, afraid to interact, and uses a vaudeville trunk as his island home at the beginning of the show -- a metaphor that helps define his flaws. Mac is the open, optimistic castaway who lands on the island in a lifeboat loaded with every item the two need for survival . . . not only in a literal sense, but poetic as well. Despite their diametrically different temperaments, a relationship develops as they begin to trust each other.
Forever linked with the Inigo Montoya character in the film, “The Princess Bride,” and, more recently, as Saul Berenson in Showtime’s “Homeland,” among a multitude of other film, television and stage credits, Patinkin has created another indelible character, depicted with visually arresting stage business, perfect-pitch timing, and the chops to sing from a telephone book and still make it a stunning success. As for Mac -- playwright, singer-songwriter and cabaret performer known for his embellished make-up and costumes-- it seems as though the role were written for him. (Duh . . . actually, it was! Likewise, Patinkin.) A master at both subtle and grand gestures, he brings forth an endearing Everyman, who probably would love every man, if there were any others left on the planet. With his airy suppleness - a nice counterbalance to Patinkins more grounded gracefulness -- and penchant for facial and physical fun, Mac is the ideal mate for this Godot-like tale.
Together, these two consummate actors deliver 75 memorable moments before rowing off into the sunset.
- 30 -
The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville
American Repertory Theater at Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge, through May 31. Tickets: 617-547-8300 or www.americanrepertorytheater.com