Last Easter chronicles terminal breast cancer's effect on single, fortysomething lighting designer June (Helen Wassell) and her tight circle of friends: Leah (Yosefa Forma), Gash (Kelly Mantle) and Joy (Kirsten Chandler), who also make their living in the theater and support June while she struggles with her quickly progressing illness.
Bryony Lavery's play, first produced in New York in 2004 and now getting a look at Laguna Playhouse, avoids trite sentimentality by only briefly invoking the infinitely complex topics of death by cancer, euthanasia, sexual identity and that tricky thing called friendship. Instead, Last Easter is a weirdly tasteful look at those messy and often ugly topics performed by an entirely capable cast. Although Lavery's script seems to introduce these difficult issues merely for the sake of keeping her play rolling—even though good old dramatic conflict seems to work just fine for other playwrights out there—her script does provide the inspiration for truly beautiful staging.
The expert blocking on a sophisticated set (designed by Narelle Sissons) of oversized, backward-facing stage flats positioned behind a circular, raked floor that fills the entire stage provides a textbook example of how to effectively stage an impressionistic script. Its fluid and unobtrusive lighting design transports the audience from a golden spring day in the south of France to a bright, cool winter morning in London to a stark, colorless hospital room, while the actors position and reposition four aluminum chairs as one scene melts into another.
The lovely look of Laguna Playhouse's Last Easter almost overpowers the script's shortcomings, but Lavery's wariness of treading the path of sentimentality forces her to err on the side of superficiality, pre-empting truthfulness and a wholly successful production.
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LAST EASTER AT LAGUNA PLAYHOUSE, 606 LAGUNA CANYON RD., LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 497-2787. TUES.-FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH MAY 21. $20-$59.