The Last One Left
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 15, 2007
The press release for Jason Pizzarello's new play The Last One Left describes it as "part John Guare, part David Lindsay-Abaire"; I'd throw a healthy dose of Chekhov into the mix of influences as well. But the play would be considerably stronger if it had its own distinct, personal voice instead. As is, The Last One Left is a bewildering and meandering comedy that unfortunately doesn't seem to have much of a point.
The title character is, I presume, Emma, a young woman who lives with her mother and uncle in some remote but unspecified American location. Also on hand is Emma's younger sister, Anna, but she's determined to get out, either by going to college or whatever other means are at hand; as portrayed by the always formidable Maria McConville she's so fierce that there's never any doubt that she'll get her way. Emma and Anna's brother Danny has already gotten out: he's in the armed forces, fighting in a war against Mexican robots. As the play begins, Danny is returning home, and he brings with him one of his buddies, a good-looking soldier named Eddie. Eddie falls in love with both Emma and Anna at first sight, and in order to woo the two very different sisters, he assumes a second identity, that of Edward, who is pretty much the same as Eddie except he has an eyepatch, walks with a cane, and professes more intellectual interests. The two women are taken in by Eddie/Edward's rather transparent plan, but eventually he's forced to choose between them.
Danny, meanwhile, is suffering from what could be paranoid delusions about the robots he's been fighting (post-traumatic stress syndrome?) and he's convinced that the family needs to flee to Canada, even though the Mexicans seem to have lost the war. The socially conscious satire that Pizzarello attempts in this section of the play sits rather uneasily with the rest of the piece, and fails to signify much that's interesting or new.
Which leaves us with Emma's struggle. The playwright has loaded her down with lots of baggage: she wants to go to New York City but is obviously ill-equipped to act on that fantasy; she feels guilt about her mother, who, we are told repeatedly, was hit on the head by a fallen aircraft part and now has lost some of her memory and her wits (an homage to Fuddy Meers?).
Sometimes the dialogue is flowery and poetic, unlike actual conversation; and other times it's highly naturalistic. I wasn't sure why the shifts occurred. I was very aware of the kinds of plays—Guarian, Chekhovian—that Pizzarello seemed to be trying to write here. But for this dysfunctional family comedy to really work, the author needs to find his own voice and, perhaps even more importantly, to clarify and focus on specifically what themes he wants to convey to his audience.