By David Marlow
The Last Session will break your heart in two and then give it musical CPR.
Beginning with a confession to an absent lover, musician/songwriter Gideon announces that his battle with AIDS has become too devastating. He will “off” himself after tonight’s “last session” in the recording studio. Having told only sound techie Jim, his friends Tryshia and Vickie will get the news tomorrow in a letter.
Jim Brochu’s book for The Last Session packs a lot into this short musical. Issues of homophobia, religious snobbery and compassionate caring for friends are at the heart of this heart-tugger.
Steven Schalchlin manages to create a score which is emotionally charged. A very fine cast delivers performances drenched in heartfelt passion.
Samuel Wood, who played the title character in the Theatre Group’s first production of Jeffrey, has done a superb job of directing Theatre Off Broadway’s current offering. Wood has cast the five-person show impeccably. This artist seems to share Steven Tangedal’s directorial penchant for making us cry and laugh simultaneously. And he does it with expert skill.
The musical direction by Tangedal elicits genuine and stirring vocals from one and all. Tangedal, who also created the realistic scenic design for the recording studio set, has also done a bang-up job with evocative sound and lighting designs.
Jody Wells leads the cast as the suicidal Gideon with superb vocals that reveal a great emotional range. Carla Kaiser Kotrc is Vicki, Gideon’s ex-wife/best friend. Kotrc brings out all the great heart imaginable in this character, along with some spectacular belting. Kotrc is hilariously adept at delivering the satiric barbs given her Diva of a character by the playwright.
Laura Chavez gives a thoroughly professional reading to Tryshia, the fiery Latina of the singing group. David Ballew is especially strong as an acerbic techie who, entrusted with the awful existential news, creates waves that turn the tide.
Robert Riney plays Buddy, the Bible-beating, Gospel-singing cute boy from the South who is interested in singing... just not with any suicidal homosexuals. Riney is a young man with good looks and an intoxicating voice. He is as adept in the acting as in the singing, and can even make the dramatic arc of this bigoted character wind up endearing.
Definitely not to be missed as well.
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