BWW Reviews: Thriving in THE LAST WEEK IN DECEMBER
Encore Studio for the Performing Arts is used to forcing its audiences to think - to see things in a different light, in another person's shoes, or to simply re-evaluate their own lives. The newest show, written by Executive Director KelsyAnne Schoenhaar does all of that during a season that is wrought with enough sweetness to rot a tooth.
That is not to say that I do not personally enjoy the holiday season - it is my favorite time of year. But Schoenhaar's latest production takes the time that everyone deems 'the happiest time of the year' and reminds us that it can be an incredibly difficult time for others.
Julian has lost his parents. He's virtually alone in a world that seems far too focused on his emotional struggle since they cannot comprehend the connection he has to his childhood home over losing his family. Julian does not want hugs, compassion, or sympathy. He simply wants life to go back to the way it was. He contemplates why change is so horribly difficult, particularly for him, and his Grandma is the only one who understands what he needs.
Nick Kaprelian, who plays Julian, commands his role with the respect and empathy necessary to do justice to it. In a show so deeply focused on the daily struggles of an individual with a disability as well as the emotional turmoil of grief, Kaprelian clearly respects the part Schoenhaar provided him. Especially in moments when Kaprelian has to tell jokes to those around him to mask his struggle, he has mastered the ability to alter his speech patterns in order to indicate how difficult his coping with life has become.
Marcy Weiland, on the other hand, who plays Julian's Grandma is the motherly role the young man needs so desperately. Winter holidays are a time for celebrating the joy of loved ones - Weiland's soft features embrace that notion as she observes her dear grandchild's grieving. At the same time, she is able to lighten the mood by reminding Julian of all of the memories he carries with him. Through jokes and witty banter, the two are able to play off their sadness on one another.
These lighter moments, particularly in Act II, are necessary for the audience to be able to take a breath. Unlike other holiday shows, this one is quite the load to bear.
Other characters are able to provide comic relief as well. A bit ironic since joking around is how Julian shies away his feelings, though it could be a testament to how every person has their own struggles in life - despite the season's begging to differ.
Flirtatious barista Lexy attempts to provide her favorite customer, Julian, with more material for his line-up of
jests. Lexy, portrayed by an ever charismatic Jennifer Scott, hates to watch her friend go through the time alone and does her best to make him smile. At the same time, Julian's friend Sean makes every attempt to spite him because of his own dilemmas. A snide Viktor Petterson plays Sean, taking every opportunity to spit more venom at a friend he simply cannot relate to.
I only wish the show were a little bit longer. That it would provide more closure for its characters that make their way into a viewer's mind. Perhaps upon a revival more can be resolved for not only Julian, but his friends as well. More time with the company at Encore is certainly never a bad thing.
What Encore does, and does exceedingly well, is bring to light the topics that stay under the rug. No one enjoys discussing grief, particularly during such a lighthearted time of year, but sometimes it has to be done. Their newest show reveals how one person's coping with a struggle cannot always be a convenient fix. People may not even know what is really going on in their minds. Despite its weight, The Last Weekend In December can still epitomize the holiday season.
Because it still causes one to think about the years past and bask in the glow of happy memories.