Review by Jared Davidson
55 minutes | Drama | G (some language)
Mabel’s Last Performance is a beautiful example of how the many elements of a production can come together to produce an outstanding whole. The set design, music, acting, and locale seem guided by some omniscience towards cohesiveness. It’s probably a testament to the skill of everyone involved in the production, which contains no drought of big names. Kathi Langston brings a wealth of experience and prowess to the part of Mabel (the only acted part). The show also features music by Ian Tamblyn, a name that should be familiar to many who follow theatre in the capital.
These are venerable players, and Megan Piercey Monafu directs them through her script brilliantly. If there is divine intervention to thank for this production’s smoothness, it is surely hers. Mabel’s Last Performance is Monafu’s first production as writer, and with it she demonstrates that she will be a name to watch in the coming years.
Every aspect of this piece is rich with detail. It concerns an elderly woman who is battling Alzheimer’s disease. Set in her room in a nursing home, the plot concerns Mabel’s plans to escape the nursing home through an almost heist-movie-esque series of steps. Much of the tension issues from our hope that she pulls off the daring self-rescue and shakes off the shackles of her drab nursing home life. But most of the tension comes from Langston’s beautifully tragic portrayal of what is a horrible disease.
We are invited into Mabel’s mind, and the transition is seamless. Her every emotion, her every ounce of self-doubt and frustration, her longing for her old life, and her battle to hold on to what she has – all of this is made incredibly real and vivid. I felt her desperation, her anxiety, and her sadness, but also her hope, her kindness, and her liveliness. At the same time, the play’s structure demonstrates the other side as well: the way in which her disease must have alienated those she loved. Mabel has several emotionally-charged exchanges with an invisible-to-us nurse who evolves from a villain to a tragic character. The writing, combined with the exceptional acting, creates something staggeringly brilliant which deserves all the attention it will no doubt get.
The final piece of the puzzle is Tamblyn’s music. His lilting piano is so haunting, and so very fitting, that it is doubtful the play would be what it is without him. He beautifully matches the tone of the acting in his effortless arrangements, which migrate between a sense of childlike wonder and a creeping feeling that something is very wrong. It brings the audience into just the right emotional climate. When I spoke with him after the show, he told me that his pieces are mostly improvised and that he plays off Langston, creating new music to fit her performance on the fly.
There are one or two moments when this method doesn’t quite work (it can be overpowering at times), but they become insignificant when placed next to the amazing artistry with which Tamblyn tells the emotional story of this character, live from beside the stage. I would go as far as to say that this is not a one-person show, but a two-person collaboration between Tamblyn and Langston. They work off each other so well that the result is genius. This is, without a doubt, a highlight of my Fringe experience so far, and I encourage everyone to see this show.
Mabel’s Last Performance is playing at BYOV H (St. Paul’s Eastern United, 473 Cumberland at Daly) on Friday June 15 at 7:30pm, Saturday June 16 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm, Sunday June 17 at 6:30pm, Wednesday June 20 at 7:30pm, Thursday June 21 at 7:30pm, Friday June 22 at 7:30pm, Saturday June 23 at 2:30pm and 6:30pm