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Review: The Last Man on Earth

Posted by art On June - 3 - 2011

The Last Man on Earth
Co-created by Phil Rickaby, Dana Fradkin, Stephen LaFrenie, Janick Hebert, Ginette Mohr (Director), Richard Beaune (Dramaturg/Artistic Director), David Atkinson (Music), and Kimberly Beaune (Stage Manager/Production Manager)
Part of the Toronto Festival of Clowns
June 2 & 5 @ Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement

By Jessie Davis

We were led out the back door of Pia Bouman School of Dance, into a parking lot where the evening sun seemed determined not to leave us. Then, as our eyes adjusted to the burst of light, down into the darkness of the adjacent theatre. The setup, though cleaner and painted entirely black, is reminiscent of the freak show at Coney Island—a tiny, intimate space with a handful of amphitheatre-style seats—and we were fortunate enough to find ourselves in the front row.

Quite honestly, at the end of this grueling workday, I was happy just to sit down. I had no idea how thoroughly delighted and enveloped in whimsy I was about to become. Warning: this review contains an obscene count of the word adorable. There really is no better word to describe it.

The performance is staged as a live-action silent film. There are no words said aloud, but there is the occasional text block and adorable mouthing of words. David Atkinson sets each scene to his witty, well-timed piano playing, with a few post-modern touches as he changes up a bar or three to reflect the scene’ s events or interact with the Devil himself.

Stephen LaFrenie plays the devil with a hilarious sensitivity while also successfully conveying the evil nature of the character. He truly becomes an old-time silent film villain, lacking only the railroad tracks that captive maidens are often tied to.

As Gormless Joe, Phil Rickaby has pocketed the sheer joy of innocence and generously shared it in this performance. His wide-eyed portrayal had the audience giggling in the first scene as he interacted with oversized flies, and even vocally objecting when it seemed he would not prevail in the climactic battle scenes.

Equally innocent and adorable was Dana Fradkin, playing Gormless Joe’ s love interest, Penelope. With her sweet skittishness and the permanent look of pure wonder in her eyes, she is a perfect match—both for Joe, and, as you will see, for the Devil.

The Devil’ s slapstick, eager-to-please minion (played by Janick Hebert) stole the show, however. Her over-the-top miming and facial expressions, adorably fuzzy costume and incredible talent for throwing a silent temper tantrum had me in tears on more than one occasion.

Keystone Theatre’s The Last Man on Earth plays again on Sunday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m., and I will definitely be there for an encore.

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