Please Make This the Last Summer

It's a bit difficult to get excited about a story in which the most intense dramatic moment involves an argument over who's going to carry the cooler to the picnic. That's what we get in Last Summer at Bluefish Cove,a mediocre play at best. At worst, it's a would-be tearjerker peopled by characters as deep as cardboard and the kind of contrived plot that would be laughable if it weren't so unfunny.

Yet, strangely and even a touch wonderfully, the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble has nonetheless committed heart, soul and liver to its excellent production of this most dubious drama.

The play tells the story of Lil, a lesbian suffering from an advanced case of cancer. She and her friends—several other lesbian couples—are, as usual in plays of this ilk, vacationing for the summer in rented bungalows by the ocean. Not only is Lil very sick, but she is also the only one in the group without a girlfriend or any apparent prospects. That is, until the arrival of an attractive newcomer, a very naive and apparently heterosexual woman named Eva.

If it weren't for the terminal disease, this would have all the makings of a featured film on the Spice Channel, including the thin skin-flick plotting. But that doesn't prevent the lead cast members from giving up all they have. Paulette Kendalls' Lil has some fine moments; she's particularly adept at pulling off her character's big physical and emotional crises. Robin Romeo, as the beautiful gold digger Donna, is also strong, giving some much-needed zip to her brief scenes and supplying what scant humor this dreary play possesses.

Director Jocelyn Brown makes a grievous mistake, however, by allowing an already sentimental piece to become cloying. The hugging just never stops. Too bad Brown didn't focus as much attention on making sure the ensemble cast knew its lines better—or could manage the play's constant swearing without sounding so phony.

At times like these, about the only thing a bored, restless theatergoer can do to pass the time is check out the physical digs. And what a set. They hauled about a ton of sand into the theater, creating a stunning beach effect. And an artful cutaway beach house at the rear of the stage completes the illusion of life at the ocean's edge. The astutely selected costumes also go a long way toward helping to define the different characters. Too bad such outstanding production values aren't in the service of a better play.

Last Summer at Bluefish Cove at Vanguard Theatre Ensemble, 699A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 526-8007. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through July 21. $15; students/seniors, $13.

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