note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Chuck Galle
Players Ring Theatre in Portsmouth New hampshire has for ten years done that most dangerous of theatrical feats; produced world premiers of works by area playwrites. "The Last Ticket Home" by Jack Black is the second such production this season (and perhaps should be called the third since "Isle Of The Moon" was in it's third revision and incarnation when it was performed there last October). The last ticket being referred to is of course the ticket to our most last destination wherever each of us may understand that to be. So, let me ask you, what do you do with this: Five old guys are sitting around the backyard of the rooming house they are growing death-old in, playing a game of Create The Best Answer To Letters To Ann Landers. As they riposte with each other making us laugh at witty and clever remarks they each take a little "dramatic moment" to reveal something of their now defunct marital relationship. Woven into the patter is the story of Ernie, who was the sixth of their little coterie, their clique. Seems he struck it $10,000 rich on the daily instant winner lottery and has gone away to Montpelier to collect the cash. Also seems that was ten days ago and he hasn't returned yet.
Sounds like the premise of a pretty good play, wouldnıt you say? Five characters you can delve into who may offer some insight into approaching death with serenity, integrity, dignity, valor and or wit. Resolution of regrets, reconciliation with wounded family or friends, forgiveness of debts of money, embarrasment, disenchanment, hurt, betrayal, thoughtlessness or even maliciousness. Or maybe conning your son into assasinating you by telling him you murdered his mother, thus bringing your own unbearable life to a programmed timely end. And then you might unite the guy whose daughter became a rock star and drug addict and rejected him with her because she was visited by an angel in the middle of a concert, who also persuaded her to kick her habit. And then Ernie comes on to the stage dressed in a three piece suit and looking spiffy and the daughter identifies him as the angel and Act One ends.
This is a courageous start. Suicide as an answer to the conundrum aging poses for some so-called baby boomers, whose memories of their behaviors in early adulthood may be more than they can bear in latter adulthood. The headiness of unexpected wealth. In fact, the piddling amounts than can be considered wealth when scraping by has been habitual. The impoverishment of spirit we can allow age to impose on our lives. Angelic intervention in our lives.
Set designer and director Paul Shoop has done his job well on this production. The set is so comfy looking you want to just walk right down there and join these guys even it means trying to second guess Ann Landers to do it. And except for a couple of small blocking problems not worth detailing the performance is tight and crisp. I love it when cues are followed immediately with their response and I donıt have to realize that Iım waiting for that next line. He has rehearsed his cast well and chosen it well I might add. Some of the characterizations of age need the insight of age, but this is a nitpicky criticism, and is compensated for by zesty acting of perfomers enjoying their lines. Susan Turner turns in three nice cameos as Mrs. Kimball, Dixie and Trina; certainly the best is Mrs. Kimball, which is the largest of the three parts. Mort the former boxer is nicely done by Mike Pomp who enjoys himself so much he makes Mort enjoy himself. Dale J. Young does Phil up just fine, especially in the Auntie Annie scenes. Dick Ingram, who plays an interesting double role, needs to lift his head a bit, despite the dark role he plays, so the audience can see his face more. Alan Huisman takes the plum lines describing Sandy's last painting with relish and makes an Everyman artist for us with great sensitivity. Matthew Lamstein left the words "Shoot him and throw him off the roof" running around my memory for a good long while. Bernie Tato does his expectedly crisp job in the enigmatic role of Ernie who either is an Angel or a near-death survivor, an unenviable role because of this lack of full definition. Michele Kilkenny rounds out the cast nicely as the Rock Star Jody.
The fault with this show is the disjoint second act. It seems Jack Black never decided what he wanted to say to us once he established a premise. Devlopment of the various potential themes may have seemed too long a chore and so he chose one, resolved it unsatisfactorily and closed the whole discussion down. Itıs too bad. The play shows great promise and I hope he will get this kind of feedback from other, more erudite reviewers and critics and dive into the hard work his Act II requires of him. With more effort and serious rewrite work he will no doubt discover what he needs to learn that drove him to start the play. When he knows what the play means to him I have no doubt he can relate that to his audience.
"The Last Ticket Home" by Jack Black is being performed at Players' Ring, 105 Marcy Street, Portsmouth New Hampshire on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from January 18, 2001 through February 4, 2001. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8:00 PM and Sunday performances are at 7:00 PM. Please call 603-436-0566 for reservations and further information or see website www.playersring.org.