BWW Reviews: LAST MEETING is a Meeting Worth Skipping
I have no doubt that selecting a theatrical season must be an incredibly challenging task. Making a last minute change to your season must be even worse. Different Stages, one of Austin's most consistently impressive theater companies, was posed with such a problem this year when they were forced to forgo one of their initially announced production, Child's Play.
If the only option for a replacement is Preston Jones' exceedingly problematic Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia, canceling completely may be the best bet. Jones' material is so terrible, you'll be hard pressed to find a positive review of ANY production of it since its premiere in 1973. Trust me. I looked.
The problems start with the subject matter (well, really, they start with the title. Last meeting? Kind of a spoiler). The play focuses on (shocker) the last meeting of a group of white supremacists called the Knights of the White Magnolia. Now ask yourself, do you really care to see a show about white supremacists who spun off of the KKK?
Granted, uncomfortable subject matter can often lead to thrilling theater, but Jones doesn't quite know what to do with the characters he's chosen to write about. He doesn't vilify them. He doesn't glorify them. He doesn't humanize them. He doesn't allow them to grow by learning from the errors of their ways, unless you count the realization that using the words "we reserve the right to refuse service" allows them to legally discriminate.
So what do these men do? To borrow from one character, they "bumbledick" around for a tedious hour and 30 minutes as they try in vain to inaugurate a new member into their dwindling clan, as if we should care that a group of racists is dying. Director Bob Tolaro fails to breathe any life into the characters or their relationships, and his blocking is incredibly stagnant, in part due to Ann Marie Gordon's cramped set. The entire cast struggles to create interesting, distinct characters out of their roles. Most go through the motions and wait to deliver lines in a Foghorn Leghorn voice rather than actually connecting with the other performers around them. Seriously, if I were in a room in which a person was having a PTSD war flashback in which they recount seeing someone's head blown off, I'd completely lose it. I wouldn't sit calmly, hands clasped in my lap, waiting for my next opportunity to speak.
The only exceptional performer in the cast is Donald Owen. As an elderly, wheelchair-ridden World War I veteran, Owen gives a powerful and stirring performance. He charms and wins plenty of laughs as the stern but lovable Colonel, and he's able to portray his character's mental instability in a way that is engaging, realistic, and haunting. If only his outstanding performance was in a show deserving of his talents.
Running time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
LAST MEETING OF THE KNIGHTS OF THE WHITE MAGNOLIA, produced by Different Stages, plays The City Theatre at 3823 Airport Blvd, Suite D now thru Saturday, April 26th. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets are $15-$30. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.main.org/diffstages/index.html