“… impro cuts loose, and cries of ‘F –ing awesome’ applaud play and cast.”
A tale of two exclamations from ole stage coach territory. There’s “Whoa!” (Slow down) or “Wow!” (Stop right there. That’s too much). Either way, forget it. The foot brake’s worn, the wheel brake’s a joke, and you’re gonna get hurt, lady, if you stay up top. Best ride is in here, in Bedlam, with us. It’s a long journey of near on two and a half hours but it’s fun.
Director and writer Eric Geistfeld is from somewhere in Minnesota. Home is unlikely to be Bemidji but what the heck, The Last Straw is tv’s Fargo in a gothic farce. It’s intrepid. No quavering, gathered strings here; no hole in the ice but a useful trapdoor. There is breakneck writing, lunatic action, a menagerie of oddball characters, a yellow sex doll, and a lot of laughs.
Upright, young Edward, true-buttoned Brit and in financial services, is just married to Judy, all-American sweetheart, ‘pajamaed’ and with her teddy. They are to live with Violet, Judy’s mother, in Terror Towers. It might as well be Marine Corps ville. Ronald Reagan is venerated and there is a dead butler, resident throughout the first half, who wears aviators and is fed cake, but it’s gum-chewing, pistol packing Violet (Isobel Moulder) who calls the shots, literally. There will be no kids until she’s ashes and she’d be much obliged if her son in law would smoke them after she’s gone. Not that she plans to let him live long. Edward (Macleod Stephen) is a good sort, articulates so well, but realises that his body bag is being prepared. Ma has to go so he puts out a contract on her life, as she has on his.
There is live keyboard but you hang onto the soundtrack. The Magnificent Seven sets us off and then it’s a trip through The First Cut is the Deepest, Our House, The House of the Rising Sun and, of course, Sweet Dreams are Made of This. By this point Edward has taken a slice of sponged cocaine cake and is away, tally-ho, with his toilet plunger and the weird fairies from the basement. The fourth wall crumbled a while back, impro cuts loose, and cries of ‘F –ing awesome’ applaud play and cast.
The Last Straw goes out to glad-hand its audience. Is it like the Lothian state fair on the Meadows? Kind of. Scenes are gaudy, wisecracking sideshows, neatly divided by a door on wheels. They put their trust in ‘Together we’ll go far’, which just happens to be the slogan of the Wells Fargo bank. Especially successful are ‘The Murderelli Brothers’, possibly from Brooklyn, whose take on Alan Rickman is actually to die for; ‘The Existential Hecklers’ from outta Sartre and ‘The Sad Killer’. What of the main act in amongst these diversions? Beyond the closing cheer of ‘Happy Families’, there needn’t be one. For the best of reasons The Last Straw is a fearless, crowded, tiring, play.
And so to our adventurous rating and ranking of 3* OUTSTANDING. Three stars (safe) because you won’t be disappointed by such a full-on, have-a go, production. Colour coded red – Outstanding – because The Last Straw is remarkable rather than unbearable. I thought so, anyway.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 22 October)
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