Welcome to the real world. It’s a cutthroat place where hopes and dreams are stuck in limbo. It’s a place where you’re so lonely, you’re blind to every signal of love that passes you by. And, at the end of it, you often find yourself contemplating only one question: Where did my life go? Yes, it’s the same question that Nat, played by the very funny David Mason, asks himself in Geva Theatre Center’s new play, “Last Gas” (written by “Almost, Maine” writer John Cariani and directed by UR Visiting Professor and Geva’s Director of Education Skip Greer).
The entire play takes place in and around a convenience store. In the middle of Maine. It sounds boring, yet it’s the simplicity and serenity of the location that showcases the reality of it all. The story revolves around a single father’s (Nat’s) struggle with everyone around him. He has a son that he has no control over. He’s got his ex-wife, a forest ranger, who keeps on reminding him he’s trapped inside the convenience store forever. His father pesters him because his grandson’s a Yankee fan (Maine apparently is a solid Red Sox state). On top of that, his first love is back from New York for one weekend. And while Nat tries to handle all of these frustrations in a matter of a day and a half, his best friend Guy, played by the fantastic Aaron Muñoz, just wants Nat to go to the Red Sox vs. Yankees game with him for Nat’s birthday. All he desires is for Nat to be happy, and this is where much emotional conflict arises post-intermission.
Especially considering the simplicity of the play, the technical virtuosity of “Last Gas” is astonishing. It’s a two floored house, with the first floor being the convenience store and the second floor being living space. Outside of the house lies a forest with bright and luminescent stars as the backdrop. The experience is wholly cinematic. The entire location covers the whole stage (and a few of the first rows), inviting the audience to enter the drama and engage with the family played by an excellent ensemble which also includes Nick Ekelens, John Pribyl, Brenda Withers, and Gabra Zackman.
It’s a very heartwarming and funny play – that certainly cannot be denied. It’s a testament to the writing and directing that the audience has a blast just by listening to the conversations the characters have with each other. But between these surface-level comedic moments, there are always greater emotional depths that connect with the audience more deeply. Each character has regrets that they live with, and no one has a clean slate. Some wish they’d have acted differently, some wish they’d taken chances. The fact is, everyone (except for Nat’s son) thought they would be someone one day, but now they have to confront these regrets in order to effectively move on with their lives.
This isn’t a tragic play with unrealistic plot twists and fantastical elements – it’s merely a day in the life of a very average family, and that’s probably the best part about it. It can’t be stressed enough how real and simple this play is, because it’s the simplicity that makes you bond with the production the most. It’s the simple story of expectations not meeting reality, of finally letting go, and of having the courage to push the gas pedal to just go somewhere. And you know what? It doesn’t matter where you go, just as long as you don’t end up at the place you started.
Usmani is a member of
the class of 2017.