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“The Last Wide Open” a complex but very accessible romantic play-with music at Glens Falls

Set rendering for The Last Wide Open by Andrew Mannion
Adirondack Theater Festival
Set rendering for The Last Wide Open by Andrew Mannion

“The Last Wide Open,” a play with music, which is being offered through Saturday evening by Adirondack Theatre Festival is the most intriguing show you are likely to see this summer season. It might even the most original theatrical experience of the year.

What makes the last statement so challenging is a simple plot description makes the premise seem extremely familiar. Even ATF’s marketing material compares it to “Groundhog Day.”

The two-person play takes place after hours in an Italian restaurant. Over three scenes we get to meet and know Roberto, the Mexican immigrant who washes dishes, and Lina, the also single American waitress who stays late to clean and prep the tables for the next day. It is immediately clear there is a genuine but uncomfortable attraction between them.

However, this is not a linear story of how two opposites realize over the course of time that they are meant for each other. In the broadest way it is, but it’s much deeper and, dare I say - profound?

This is not a show about romance thwarted or postponed until the stars are aliened. It’s a work that suggests that the stars are always aligned. Most importantly, it says that because there are no guarantees for happy-ever-after doesn’t mean you should not take a risk in being happy in the present moment or the foreseeable future. Failure not to love is worse than love that fails to endure.

Which introduces the tricky element of the production. It asks what is the present? Throughout the play, the characters also act as narrators. They emphasize that even though the time line of the play covers more than 15 years, all the events actually happen during the same day.

Though this sounds complicated, playwright Audray Cefaly use the device to make her point. As an audience we are always in the moment, but when we learn the second scene takes place five years before the first scene and the third scene is 15 years after the second and we are told its all the same day. During the show your focus is always on the present scene, but you cannot help but mentally jump ahead to wonder where it’s all going.

I can tell you not to worry. Go where the playwright and actors take you. It is all becomes clear. Which is what the play is trying to say. Trust in your own capabilities even when things seem too complex to comprehend what is happening to you.

If this sounds complicated for an audience, imagine an actor who plays characters who repeats key portions of dialogue in every scene and must keep the moment honest and fresh. Kimberly Gilbert is an adorable Lina, a capable woman, who sabotages herself by feelings of unworthiness. She has the most spoken moments and uses them to establish a complicated human being worthy of happiness.

Robert Ariza is a fantastic Roberto. He’s an engaging presence, who exudes charm and confidence, even though limited with language skills. I’ve rarely seen an actor so effectively establish mood, emotion and intelligence with such little dialogue. It’s a master class in the art of being present on stage.

As stated, this is a play with music, but the simple and lovely tunes composed by Matthew M. Nielson are important elements in the presentation. So too are the frequent comic moments that add to the humanity of the characters.

It’s directed with daring and insight by Marcus Kyd. The style of the work resembles a play by Luigi Pirandello in that the actors in the play are clearly aware they are inseparable from the characters they inhabit.

Kyd’s staging makes this conceit easy to accept actors frequently breaking the fourth wall of theater. It even includes a stage hand (Annabelle Iredale) to hand props, musical instruments, and dress actors on stage, even though the person doesn’t exist in any reality we know. It’s nicely done, especially in a play that keeps you wondering about the meaning of time and alternate universes.

However, one element that keeps you grounded in the now is the set by Andrew Mannion. It’s a replica of an Italian restaurant you’ve probably visited in some small town. Though no location is given, the projection that serves as a backdrop more than suggests it takes place in Glens Falls.

And it does, at least until Saturday evening. “The Last Wide Open” is a lovely romantic story, that sound more complicated than it is. Go to the Charles Wood Theatre and prove to yourself how smart you are. For tickets go to atfestival.org or call 518- 480-4878

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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