The Last Supper
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
April 28, 2010
Remember the first time you thought about or were asked what you would do if you could go back in time and meet Adolf Hitler when he was a kid? That question is a running theme in Dan Rosen's play The Last Supper, an adaptation of the 1995 movie of the same title. It has been adapted and directed by Rising Sun Performance Company's artistic director Akia, and it will definitely make you think.
I do remember my answer to the time-travel-Hitler question and it was not to kill, but adopt him. I say this because I still feel that way and my thoughts about pre-emptive violence will most likely color this review. Many of the characters' arguments that support murder made me crazy.
However, that is not a bad thing. It is also a testament to the cast's wonderful talent and commitment that I was engaged throughout, even when seething. The play takes place in Ames, Iowa, in 2006. Five liberal, vegan graduate students named Jude (Nicole Howard), Luke (J.L. Reed), Mark (Michael Bernardi), Pete (David Anthony) and Paulie (Lindsay Beecher) are housemates. (Note that there are two separate casts working on this play; the cast mentioned here is the opening night cast.)
Pete's car breaks down on a rainy night. He accepts help and a ride home from Zach (Joe Beaudin), a Desert Storm veteran. In return, he and his friends invite Zach in for dinner. Zach is clearly a fish out of water in this company, especially when the conversation turns political. In response to Zach's conservative views, the hosts make snarky comments they assume go over their guest's head.
Just when you think the five are bratty intellectual snobs who believe they are better than a guy who drives a truck for a living, Zach casually announces he feels Hitler had the right idea and the Holocaust was exaggerated. A statement like that casts a pall on any dinner party, but it gets worse when Zach pulls a knife on Mark.
Mark is able to free himself from the dinner guest from hell, but then accidentally stabs him in the back. For those in the audience who are used to stage violence: be warned. Zach does not just fall over dead. The director Akia and fight director Turner Smith—rightly, to my mind—have Beaudin show the slow agony and horror of what happens when someone dies from a stab wound.
Next is one of the play's darkest and funniest scenes. With a dead body on their living room rug, the five debate philosophical, moral, and ethical arguments about killing. The fact that they take the time to have this discussion at all is funny. Plus, they do so as intensely as they earlier debated the origins of Charlie Chaplin's mustache. It pokes great fun at liberals and is highly recognizable.
They come to the conclusion that in order to make the world a better place and to "make a difference," they will find conservatives, invite them to dinner and then kill them. Their victims include a priest who believes AIDS is a punishment for homosexuality (Larry Gutman), an apologist for date rape (Michael Jones), and an anti-choice activist (Susan Burns).
Here is where I thought it really got interesting in terms of the script challenging viewpoints. Most of the victims seemed like cranks. They weren't even dangerous enough to be lone gunmen, just someone with really mean-spirited and narrow ideas which, I would like to believe, I would defend their right to spew. That is, until the date rape guy.
Other viewers will have their own limit and buttons pushed, but for me, that was when I thought, "Oh yeah, this one should die." It was disturbing and thought-provoking but then only until one gets past immediate revenge fantasies and takes into account the rule of law and freedom of speech.
The TV is turned on and off throughout the play to a talk show hosted by Norman Arbuthnot, a combination Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck type brilliantly played by Chris Enright. In very funny segments, Arbuthnot bullies guests and goes on radical tirades that would be welcome at any Tea Party rally.
His private plane is stranded at the local airport during a book tour and Luke brings him home to dinner as a prize catch. His moderate and persuasively grounded arguments for a free society to have all different points of view heard shames the group and creates a surprise ending that, if you haven't seen the movie, I will not give away here.
There are no weak links in this cast. Everyone creates a full character and is fantastic in his or her role. Kudos also go to the set designer Jak Prince for making some of the best use of The Red Room I have ever seen. This is a production not to be missed, not only for the subject matter, but also for the talent of all involved.