You’re at the end of your rope, but you have 50 minutes to explain your position before your whole world changes drastically. Not that you can change the world in 50 minutes. But you’d like to.
This crisis is the centre of a pair of (mostly) one-man shows titled Last Men. Staged earlier this month by Theatre Projects Manitoba as part of their “In the Chamber” series, Last Men explores the lives of two separate men that have experienced a revelation. The Last Man in Universe Alpha-11, written and played by Gordon Tanner, is an engineer that has locked himself in a motel room, fearing arrest for assault. While at the motel, Last Man records a video of himself giving a speech on the causes of a barn fire that killed 15,000 hogs. He hopes that his multimillionaire boss will one day see the tape, as Last Man has become disillusioned with the hog-farming system, and hopes to end the cruelty that keeps thousands of hogs in tiny cages for the entirety of their lives.
The Last Man in Puntarenas, written and played by Steven Ratzlaff, is at a dinner party celebrating his retirement. Five balloons tied to chairs represent his five bored colleagues. Last Man No. 2, a now retired investigator of the healthcare system, tries to deliver his retirement speech about the reasons why he got into his field in the first place: the death of his son as a result of flawed medical practice. Now, though he has a lump on his neck that probably signifies cancer, he refuses to put himself at the mercy of a medical system that is wildly imperfect at the best of times.
Although the newly commissioned plays are all about looking beyond statistics to the humanity of the situation, the monologues sometimes got bogged down with information. I found that I had to really pay attention constantly. No drifting off for me. No time to contemplate the significance of a particular phrase or story. These two plays were so jam-packed full of historical references and statistics and stories about the past that I occasionally found myself adrift at sea, but with no time to call for help.
Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot, laughed a lot and became attached to the two lonely men. The strength of the actors — Gordon Tanner, in particular — kept my eyes glued to the stage. I could feel, in my chest, the desperation of these characters who were each deep in the belly of an identity crisis, trying to move past their guilt and regret. But sometimes I would have liked just a little time to get my bearings.
Last Men was a three-performance-only spectacle, but you can catch the next TPM performance, Carolyn Gray’s North Main Gothic, from April 8-18 at the Canwest Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St.).