At some point, most of us give at least a little thought to the concept of death, whether our own or a loved one’s. Though we may not want to think about the end of life, it is inevitable, hopefully later rather than sooner.
With a mix of famous quotes, quick sound bites and a few touching stories, the new play “Last Rights” encourages audiences to think and talk about death a lot more. In fact, the point of this original Florida Studio Theatre documentary theater production is to stimulate conversation as part of its ongoing “For the Ages” project exploring issues surrounding aging.
As one character says, we know a lot about the birthing process, but few of us actually know what happens at death. There’s a lot to learn, and you get some lessons in “Last Rights.”
Assembled and directed by Jason Cannon from more than 100 interviews with area residents, including caregivers, hospice workers, journalists and loved ones of those who died, the production is presented in Bowne’s Lab as a reading of sorts. The six cast members stand with scripts in hand ((and)) when it’s their turn ((they)) ((delete-to)) share a story or offer one-line thoughts.
“People breathe much longer than they’re alive,” one man notes, while another says, “If we understood death better, we’d be less afraid.”
Considering the subject, the play is surprisingly humorous, as it touches on everything from the many euphemisms for death to famous last words, fear of death, dying with a sense of dignity during treatment for an illness, what we expect after death, grieving, and how survivors learn to move on in their lives.
Three widows complain about how their friends avoid them because they don’t have the words to express their sympathy and other feelings.
Get over it, and call.
The actors generally play recurring characters, like Bob Mowry’s compassionate, well-informed and experienced hospice worker who shares some personal stories and important legal information about patients’ rights to refuse care. Ann Gundersheimer is grounded and moving as a gerentologist ((sp?)) providing insights into aging and death. Mark Konrad plays a man who has one year left to live and wants to make the most of it. (Did the year end before the show ((?)) ((B))ecause the character disappears after a while) Sharon Ohrenstein plays an enthusiastic home health aide and Ana Maria Larson is extremely moving as she talks about taking care of her grandfather((,))who wasn’t ready to give up on life.
Michael Kinsey has the strongest through line as a gay man who shares memories of his late first husband and how they mesh into the life he has with his second. But he worries about what happens in the afterlife. Husband No. 1 told him, “I’ll see you on the other side.” ((W))hat happens when he shows up with husband No. 2 ((?))
The play is divided into five sections over two acts that run longer than needed without more compelling story arcs, like the stories Kinsey shares. There is no real narrative, just groupings of ideas and thoughts built around specific topics. There’s a nicely staged moment at the end of the “Any Last Words” section that ((would have provided ((Delete-provides)) a nice finale to the first act, but there’s still another section to go.
The cast, however, keeps us interested, and the play raises a lot of issues that are certainly of concern to the older FST audience and should be of interest and thought for those decades younger. “Last Rights” does have the ability, in an easily digestible way, to make you consider the possibilities of how you want to go.
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