Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: A Bad Last Night

The ever-changing landscape of real estate and rent prices has caused many beloved establishments in New York City to shut their doors. To pay homage to these places we knew and loved comes Last Night at the Carmine. Comprised of a series of snapshots, Caroline Kelly Franklin's play follows the people at the building on its final night. Rather than offer a well made play, Franklin has provided eight short plays featuring an assortment of characters from the owners to the bar rats to tenets of the building. Some of the scene are linked together by offering some information and references to the others. But the thing the piece lacked was an actual through line. Following the Almost, Maine model, Franklin uses the bar as a backdrop but most of the players had little to no care about the actual closing of the establishment let alone knowledge of it. The difference between Last Night at the Carmine and a play like Almost, Maine is in each of John Cariani's pieces there is a beginning, middle, and end. They feature a full arc so the characters are granted a resolution in ten short minutes. Franklin's short plays essentially just have an entrance and an exit to start and end scenes. They are incomplete scenes. And it's unsatisfying. The content of each scene range from a bartender and patron falling in love to the owners falling ridiculously in love to pregnancy reveals to a failed suicide attempt. It's inevitable for everyone to have problems, but the reality of everyone coming to this very roof of this very building on this very night is ridiculous. And honestly, if this roof is where everyone goes, what's the reality of it being completely empty for each conversation? Playwriting allows writers to create stories that are filled with layers and themes. Part of the fun as an audience member is figuring out the meaning of the play and coming to your own conclusions. Last Night at the Carmine does the exact opposite. Franklin spells everything out for the audience thus becoming too intellectually conscious. Via projection and program note, Franklin ties each scene into an "untranslatable" word that serves as the theme of the piece. What this does is force the audience to have to think and find this element within.
With the snapshot style of scenes, you only got to see snippets of each actor. And some made their time on stage well worth while. Leading the bunch was Clint Tate as charming bartender James, Cory Haynes as Kendrick the resident drunk bro with a past, wing woman Vicky played by Whitney St. Ours, and Derek Long as The Tenant who looked identical to the Beast after he transformed into the prince in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.
It's very likely that Franklin had her hands too full. Wearing the writer, director, and actor hat simultaneously, the project couldn't reach its full potential. A separate director and dramaturg could help Franklin find the strength in the script, allowing her to solely focus on the text. Franklin clearly wanted to follow the less is more rule that generally works in the festival. But her attention to detail was not quite there. Props remained on stage and interrupted future scenes. To create the roof atmosphere, Franklin borrowed the spaces rehearsal cubes. It was very bare bones but it was a shame that she didn't even try to mask it to make it appear like a building.
Last Night at the Carmine is a confused piece that could benefit from new guidance in the director’s seat and some great text work.