BWW Review: THE LAST PARTY at Finnigan Productions

BWW Review: THE LAST PARTY at Finnigan Productions

Meghan Logue, Michael Roberts, Abbey Braune, Ben Unwin, Andy Epstein, Kelly Kapp, Briana Clemerson, Corey Long, & Bryce Wooodard in The Last Play. Photo courtesy of Finnigan Productions.

The Last Party (being a sequel to Dirty Sexy Derby Play)

Written and directed by Bran Walker

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Originally published by Arts-Louisville.com. Used with permission.

Brian Walker's Dirty Sexy Derby Play was first produced in 2008 to public and critical acclaim. Its setting was Kentucky Derby Day, 1974, one month after the devastating April 4 tornadoes had swept through the region, and a "key" party attended by four couples. It was unapologetic about its incredibly frank sexual dialogue and raucous onstage action, which included simulated acts of carnality. In the years since, it has been revived no less than three times, and enjoys a certain amount of notoriety.

Now Walker has delivered a sequel, The Last Party, cast mostly with actors who had been in at least one version of the previous play. It deposits the same eight characters in a swank Millionaire's Row suite at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, 1984. It is approaching the height of the AIDS crisis and Victor (Andy Epstein), previously married to Francine (Brianna Clemerson) but who came out of the closet in the first play, has lost a devoted partner to the epidemic and has now himself been diagnosed. He is dying, and hoping to force some healing and reconciliation among the damaged band of friends, he has splurged on the luxurious private Derby party that is also, in many ways, a "key" party.

Walker mostly adheres to the form and structure he employed in Dirty Sexy Derby Play, giving each character an introductory monologue that breaks the fourth wall, interjecting outrageous comic bits for a utility player (Michael Roberts having a very good time), and indulging in a surreal sexual fantasy segment. But these are not quite the same people we encountered ten years before. Only Tim (Ben Unwin) and Lana (Kelly Kapp) have remained married, although not happily. Vanessa (Abbey Braune) tried to start a career in Hollywood after divorcing Carl (Bryce Woodard), and the coarse and randy Dennis (Corey Long) spent eight years in prison after his wife, Theresa (Meghan Logue), won big on the Derby and dumped him. Victor and Francine seem somewhat at peace with each other, and she has even taken up residence with a new female partner.

Some of the plotting seems farcical and at times strained, but there is an underlying pathos in Victor that is touching and never overplayed, and Walker surprises us by heading into Petrified Forest territory in the second act, allowing Dennis to dominate the action and Corey Long to run with the ball in a skillful, energetic performance carrying exactly the sense of unhinged danger the play calls for. Abbey Braune's Vanessa also delves into emotional instability, and you can feel the risk in the playing, as if the actor is only just containing catastrophe. Unwin, Clemerson, Woodard, Kapp, and Logue all do very fine work here, and Epstein is also outstanding, charting Victor's mix of courage and altruism but keeping him a grounded character.

The set is a splendid evocation of the stately luxury of a Churchill Downs private box, with a beautifully stocked bar, although the bottle of Woodford Reserve is anachronistic, as the label would not exist until about fifteen years after the action of the play. Carol Dine's costumes are period appropriate without making much fuss about it, and provide nice detail to each of the characterizations.

Walker's writing has changed since he wrote DSDP - his most recent play, High Tide, showed greater maturity and rueful, seasoned perspective, and there is some of that here, but it also feels like he is deliberately reconnecting with that earlier, more sensationalistic style. Perhaps it is what a sequel demands, and The Last Party is nearly as outrageous and scabrously funny as its progenitor. Played with feeling and authority by an adept cast, it stands as an entertaining, original play by the city's leading playwright.

The Last Party (being a sequel to Dirty Sexy Derby Play)

April 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22 @ 7:30pm

Tickets $18 - available at Thebardstown.com

The Last Party was written and conceived by adults for adults and due to adult language and sexual situations, it is not recommended for anyone under the age of eighteen.

Finnigan Productions at
The Bard's Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
502-749-5275


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From This Author Keith Waits

Keith Waits Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on (read more...)

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