Jan Miller Corran
What a pleasantly unique experience! It has, admittedly, been a long time since I've got to a theatre to see a play, but thanks to playwright Jan Miller Corran putting together "The Last Word" with director Kate Johnston, it's like the theatre has come to me. Thanks, Jan! Thanks, Kate! I genuinely dig the vantage point that we get to watch "The Last Word," it's like we're in the very center of the audience. We follow the story of writer Brett Harper trying to get to the end of his latest novel while navigating the ghosts of his past, literally and figuratively. Make no mistake - he is struggling with both, and if we're being objective, he is falling apart fast from the moment we meet him. Brett's struggling with coming to terms with a significant loss in his life, affecting his ability to function like he used to. He knows he needs to move on, just like his friends Madge and Fred like to point out – the question is how? How do we ever move on from the love that defines our life?
So look, I'll be honest with you. As a person that watches movies regularly to give you my opinion & all, up until now, that's what it's always been – movies. Seeing a play onscreen like this was an excellent idea and an intelligent way to have the story live on long after the original performance. Beyond that, it's a different experience from about 99.9% of what most of us would end up watching at home. Call me crazy, but that put me in a great mood because it would have been the last thing I expected. The ideas and concepts are also unique; "The Last Word" gets us onboard and interested in various ways right from the start. From the acting we get to witness to the actual story, what we see & how it's shown to us, it's all a great fit and true to the kind of show you'd want to see in the theatre. You get noteworthy performances and real highlights from Barbara Niven as Jillian - and John Kapelos as Brett; together, they carry the majority of the scenes you'll see, and they get right into their characters without hesitation. The main friends/neighbors, Madge (Carole Ita White) and Fred (Tom Katsis), also do a stellar job as the main supporting cast; they're well-written characters that serve a purpose to the way this story flows - and credit to both Carole and Tom for making that the case. It might be subdued in a way, but you'll still see the expressive flair of a theatre-style performance - not exaggerated so much as a welcome stylistic choice that works and seems somewhat integral to how plays are shown to us. I still think that both Brett and Jillian were highly realistic characters all the same - because that's how they're written, and they receive that level of respect from John and Barbara in playing them.
I think it's always apparent when you know the actors involved have genuine respect for the writing, and the moment that they're a part of making this play come to life, you can truly feel the desire to perform & entertain beaming out of everyone involved in what we see onstage. I was honestly somewhat terrified when I saw that "The Last Word" had been classified as a Dramedy; it's one of the toughest tightropes to walk successfully as a genre. Too much Comedy and you'll risk slipping right into parody before long; too much Drama without some comic relief can make a play too dry if you're not careful. Let me tell ya, folks, I've got a lot of love for the way that Jan Miller Corran wrote this play, and the balance the actors involved helped to achieve that through the commitment you see in each of them. It's highly evocative, and it's very real and relatable for many folks watching - that have ever been in a long-term relationship themselves, and yet really unique in how Jan chose to show us how important Jillian has always been to Brett, and vice versa, even if they weren't always sure they were loving each other, or hating each other. Both Brett and Jillian get to the fractured heart of how push/pull the art of love can be, and also reminds us how hard it is to move on & that no matter how much time we get to spend with those we love most, there are still so many things we'll never know about a person.
"No one is impossible to replace." What a line! Jillian nails that with perfect emotional precision, like she's considering the weight of her words in real-time as they come out. It's a mere moment in a great play, of course, but to me, it instantly had me thinking about whether I or anyone, could sincerely believe that if they'd ever been in a life-defining love. I felt like that was the way Barbara delivered the line, and for what is a tiny fragment of "The Last Word," it's actually a very crucial line that should have everyone thinking about where they stand on that. I suppose that brings me to my last point – what makes our vantage point in watching "The Last Word" so fantastic. While we are situated in the audience, we also get to see people feeling the weight of the drama and laughing along with the jokes – both aspects of this play landed on completely solid ground. For the most part, it's like you could hear a pin drop when the drama takes over because the folks in the audience were that engaged with what they were watching. When a joke hit, the place would light right up for a moment with laughter before going back to a respectful silence to return to the story. There are no set-changes, and there are none needed either – Jan's written this story about a story cleverly into one space - and maximized its use.
It all feels, and IS, substantial. You'll get about halfway into "The Last Word" and are surprised by how much you've already gotten from a performance like this. The preparedness and professionalism are completely apparent in every aspect, from the acting to the lighting, all the way through to instilling a sense of purpose in the material through the writing - that gives confidence to the actions we see. Look at the way they introduce Marie (Isabella Hofmann) into the play as well and how the mere presence of her character in the story presents a wealth of new questions. "The Last Word" is one of those experiences you'll have that are certain to make you reflect internally, packs a powerful punch emotionally, and would definitely make for a great night of entertainment that's moving & meaningful. The humor is on target, the drama hits home, and the balance between these elements is fully achieved. With strong performances from the entire ensemble cast - that speaks volumes on behalf of the work that has been put into making "The Last Word" and their collective commitment to every word & expression – it's dark, it's light, it's sad, it's beautiful…if there was something else that this play needed, I did not see that. Well-developed characters are an important aspect of a great play, and I feel like Jan understood that from the very get-go. She's got a story filled with widespread emotion that'll have you smiling & laughing in one moment and reaching for the Kleenex in the next.
I don't want to give too much away because you should watch this for yourself – but watch for the dancing scene shared between Brett and Jillian - and realize what you're watching is incredibly rare. The emotion they can transmit live from the stage in front of the audience is powerful. There is no shortage of wonderful scenes in "The Last Word," but the dance with Brett and Jillian was as flawless & perfect as could be, right down to the music chosen. Another aspect of a great play is the direction itself, and Johnston didn't miss a beat here. I love the way this all came out. They do a lot together, and they should be proud of their role in collectively carrying this night to victory. It's original, and it has a stunning ensemble cast, steady direction & a storyline that moves our hearts & minds. This is really well done – "The Last Word" deserves the highest of marks – four and a half stars out of five.