Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: A Relationship on Shuffle

By Michael Block

Writing is a cathartic way to let go of heartbreak. Believe me, this writer is no stranger to the practice. In Brad Baron's Last Ditch Playlist, the memories that rattle in the mind are projected onto the stage as the romance of a young couple is recounted. An interesting look at the rise and fall of a relationship, Last Ditch Playlist sings a common tune.
Told through a mostly nonlinear story structure, Last Ditch Playlist follows the range of love between Aaron, a hopeless romantic, and Wes, an intellect seeker, as they navigate their relationship through the huddles of intimacy and distance. Told through Aaron's eyes, he tries everything he can to hold onto something that may actually be nothing. Written by Brad Baron, Last Ditch Playlist takes a common theme yet explores it in a unique approach. Rather then playing sequentially, Baron plays with time. Doing so illuminates the relationship and the structure greatly. With time loosely free, Baron has room to play with structure and streamline repetition out of the story. Firstly, Last Ditch Playlist takes on a heightened theatricality but when it moves linearly near the end, it falls into a different genre. When the angst feels closer to a CW melodrama, the plays loses steam. Baron includes a sense of closure for the relationship. There’s a mutual coming to terms. It’s a cathartic ending that seemed to work best for the writer but not necessarily the piece as a whole. As it stands now, the story is wrapped up beautifully with a bow. We jump ahead in time and see the aftermath of Wes and Aaron’s parting. But do we really want to? Yes, there is a scene or two that offers some important character information but with the nonlinear structure, Baron can easily jumble the puzzle pieces and throw them in somewhere else. If that should happen, Baron has two potentially gorgeously ambiguous endings that resonated beyond belief. The reality is we likely know the result, but keeping the audience wondering as they leave the theater? It leaves them wanting more. Having the room to continue to explore and play with the puzzle will certainly help with the arc of the story. Baron has the death of his hometown friend as a key cog into Aaron’s inability to truly trust and get close to a person. It may be useful to track her presence and other amplify it or eliminate her as a character as it comes across as a superfluous blindside. The information is important, the physical character may not be.
photo by Joseph Prestamo
Rather than make Last Ditch Playlist a big production, the piece was staged so the words would take precedence. There were no thrills or frills attached. Directed by Baron and alongside a tag team of names, Last Ditch Playlist had an experimental essence about it, similar to how Cock was original staged. For a piece about intimacy, it lacked the direct intimacy it desired. With two sides of seating, Baron and co had a long alleyway of playing space. Wes and Aaron spend much of their time as a long distance pair, so finding a way to make the distance intimate was quite difficult. There was something unnatural about how they spoke on the phone to one another. But that may also be due to the inconsistency of prop usage throughout the play. The video design by Joseph Prestamo was quite striking. It was another aide that helped heighten the play. One of the strongest moments of the entire show was watching Wes dance on the rooftop in video and then match Casey Bagnall’s exquisite choreography live on stage.
Playing a bit of an extension of himself, Brad Baron as Aaron was our way into the world. Aaron’s emotion from scene to scene was a bit stagnant but when he was at the extremes, puppy love and on the brink of a breakup, Baron was at his best. Taking on the emotionally distracted and intellectually hungry Wes, Ross McCorkell brought a magnetism and allure that was a dominating force in the show. McCorkell gave Wes a slight entitlement as he dangled love and hope over Aaron in a slightly emotionally abusive manner. There was a slight lack of chemistry between Aaron and Wes, but that may be the moral of the story.
Brad Baron wore a plethora of hats for Last Ditch Playlist. Taking one or two off may be beneficial as Last Ditch Playlist moves forward. And it is a play that will move forward. Baron has written something filled to the brim with great potential. With a little more massaging, Last Ditch Playlist could be a universally revered relationship play.