In Last Man Club, Axis Theater Company, the bold standard of boundary-breaking Off-Broadway theatre, once again serves up a powder keg banquet of characters, this time relegated to the Lost & Found Department of Dust Bowl Americana. And when Axis dips its toes into airborne refuse, it doesn’t mince granules. Rather dust (or whatever the prop master deems dust-appropriate) hovers around the stage in luminous pockets of 1930s pathos.
Lynn Mancinelli, Brian Barnhart, Britt Genelin, Jon McCormick, Spencer Aste. Photo by Regina Betancourt.
With costumes seemingly plucked from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and a cast of Axis rep veterans, this study in loss and borderline despair may sound bleak on steroids, but I assure you the script, direction (both by Randy Sharp), design, and actors elevate it to something as raw as it is wistful, wrapped in humor and drama.
Literalists be damned as people (and one very disturbingly filthy blanket) stand up to a mostly abandoned landscape in the Heartland stripped of its verdant heart. Here you have a wiry young woman with the quasi-allegorical name of “Wishful Hi” (Lynn Mancinelli) who first appears in goggles—the effect being that of an insect grown to human form courtesy of a sci-fi experiment gone horribly wrong.
She is joined by Major (a justifiably insecure paranoid/VIP wannabe played by Jon McCormick), head of the four-person clan comprised of Hi, Saromy (Britt Genelin, possibly the sanest of the bunch, but who knows?), and the cranky, relentlessly thoughtful Pogord (Spencer Aste). Stumbling into this brittle family unit (“busted” ‘30s cars and trucks are the unseen culprits) come Pints (George Demas) and Henry (Brian Barnhart), albeit separately, causing Major to say: “Too many people wandering around poking into things! I don’t like it!," which doesn’t stop him from sharing his whiskey with the new arrivals.
As these compelling characters interact, snipe, sort through, dream for better times, lie, dream, entertain, duck and cover—and in some cases do business (greed is no stranger to these any-port-in-a-storm survivors of the Great Depression)—we as theatergoers are left to our own feelings and summations. This is not a neat and tidy play with its curdling undertones of a distant time and place, but it is fleshed out with stark and haunting performances.
Brian Barnhart, Lynn Mancinelli, Jon McCormick, Britt Genelin, George Demas. Photo by Regina Betancourt.
As Axis celebrates its 20th Anniversary season it should be noted that its address, One Sheridan Square, serves as a gateway to Christopher Street, the Stonewall, and the 50th Anniversary of the birth of the Gay movement at the Stonewall Inn—or perhaps I should say the birth of the proactive owning of all aspects of the LGBTQ movement. As such, the production of Last Man Club is closing on June 27th…a day prior to its original planned departure, to allow more time to celebrate the neighborhood and its legacy.
Bottom Line: You now have one less day to score tickets for a show that defies cliché in favor of the stirring and thought provoking. Do not write this one off...and bring your friends, colleagues, and family. It runs Wednesday thru Saturday at 8pm with an added Monday, June 24th performance, also at 8. For tickets and additional info, call 866-811-4111 or visit axiscompany.org.