The Last Hand
With story-tightening, Zieman’s tale could be powerful, heartfelt play
|Inglis Hall Productions presents|
|The Last Hand|
Review by Katy Walsh
Before the show even starts, it’s apparent we are in gang territory. Scenic Designer Brian Sauer frames the stage with graffiti covered, industrial beams. Mykele Callicutt (Dante) is hustling the audience. And Daniel Robert Rosenstrauch (Miguel) lurks in the background ‘tagging’ the set. The tone is already established as sinister with a side of jocularity.
Playwright Richard James Zieman pens a thug’s tale set on Chicago’s west side. Zieman’s primary focus is the relationship between a young rapper Michael Lara (Angel) and the hardened gang enforcer Anthony Conway (Clip). Their tender brotherly bond defies the violent nature of their world. A hopeful Lara plays it cool as he raps with poetic artistry. Lara is a distinct contrast to the underbelly community. The audience sees what Clips sees. The outstanding Conway wears his gangsta-like armor. His expressionless face is terrifying. His interactions with Lara hint at a vulnerability that belies his designated role.
Under the direction of Samuel G. Roberson, the entire ensemble thugs it out. The cast melds into their vicious personas. Despite some playful antics by Callicutt and Sir Jove (El Grito), Roberson keeps the tension palpable. The stomach-churning edginess is intense. Although the acting was authentic enough to scare the sh*t out of me (this is the closest I want to ever be to a gang), the story itself has some issues. It is unnecessarily long. The planning for the set-up is over-explained and redundant and, in the end, doesn’t seem plausible. The characters playing poker together seems an unlikely gathering. After all the preparation, the climax is anti-climactic. And then the ending feels rushed.
Still, The Last Hand engages with an almost surreal quality, focusing on the goodness in men and the ability to choose to leave a gang. Among the dark forces at work in this play, there is a hopeful glimmer. At the core of this bad ass show is unexpected human kindness. With some story tightening, Zieman’s redemption story will be a powerful, heartfelt play.
The Last Hand continues through October 20th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $15-$25, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information here. (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Anthony Robert La Penna
Michael Lara (Angel), Anthony Conway (Clip), Jonah Wilson (Pharoah), Daniel Rosenstrauch (Miguel), Sir Jove (El Grito), Mykele Callicutt (Dante), David Parkman (Teenager, Understudy).
behind the scenes
Samuel G. Roberson (director), August Lysy (assistant director), Brian Sauer (scenic design, technical director), Brian Browne (props design), Mike Goebel (lighting designer), Eloise Petro (costume design), Russel Goddard (sound design), Lorenzo C. Blackett Jr. (stage manager), Lauren Girard Forster (production manager), Anthony Robert La Penna (photos)