THE LAST NICKEL
nytheatre.com review by Eric Winick
It’s clear from the outset of The
Last Nickel that Something Has Happened. A bed floats in the
blackened void of TNC’s dank, eerie cabaret space, projecting a sense of
loneliness, of being cut off from the natural world. And while this
feeling increases exponentially over the course of this play by Jane
Shepard, the material has been treated so hamfistedly by Living Room
Arts that what begins as a promising exploration of the bond between
sisters in the wake of a traumatic experience ends up no deeper than an
After-School special, a melodramatic take on death and the scars it
August 15, 2002
Without divulging the specific event that brings together sisters Jo and Jamie, it suffices to say that the nature of the event isn’t made manifest until later in the play, allowing for clever clue-dropping throughout. Jo, the younger sister, attempts to wake Jamie through a series of increasingly histrionic actions, such as singing, dancing, and (in the play’s best comic flourish) playing a slide trombone. Jamie is initially annoyed by Jo’s ranting, but as mentioned, something is wrong with this picture, and Jamie’s irritation with Jo soon turns to frantic concern. Supplementing the main action is a chorus of hand puppets who emerge intermittently from behind the headboard to provide running commentary.
While there is merit in plumbing the depths of sisterly relationships in the shadow of life-changing events, Ms. Shepard’s play strives for poignancy, only to descend (inevitably?) into bathos. It’s difficult to determine who’s more at fault here, the playwright or director Melanie S. Armer, whose overly stagy direction has the sisters bouncing insanely around the set in a re-creation of childhood abandon. Reyna Kahan’s shrill Jo (whose age is never clear) becomes tiring a few minutes in; the relatively understated Lori Brigantino fares somewhat better, despite being saddled with a character who can’t decide whether to commit suicide or embark on an eating disorder. Worst of all are the puppets, a staggeringly artificial device that seems to have been devised merely to spoon-feed the audience unnecessary subtext and backstory.