It’s one of those days in which I seem to have been teleported back home. I see Nat Paradis, the main character of this unconventional love story, and I’m flown back home, to my village. I am not in Spain, though. The people I see through the theatre stage’s frame are not speaking Spanish and the scene I am watching is not set in Andalusia, but in Northern Maine. I am in the U.S. and yet I feel home. I look at Nat Paradis, interpreted in a somehow appropriate monotonous and heartbroken style by Augustus Kelley, and I see what has been the struggle of many people an ocean away. Premiered in Portland in 2010 and, in the past few weeks of October, brought to life again in Lewiston, this play seems to feel somewhat significant and maybe universal for the folks with ambitions raised in rural environments.
Moving rather slowly to convey the slow-paced lives of its characters, “Last Gas” starts off monotonous yet ludicrous, soon becoming troubled, and then bursting in the personal liberation of Nat towards its second act. This play, written by John Cariani and directed by Janet Mitchko in this year’s season of Lewiston’s Public Theatre productions, is set in “the Last Convenient Store before Canada” which is run by Nat Paradis and his father Dwight, wittily and actively played by Kurt Zischke.
As soon as the play starts, we are introduced to the character of Nat Paradis, lead role of a comedy that gets serious, who far from achieving his goals in life has been stuck for the 41 years of his existence in the remote northern area of Maine. Father to a teenager named Troy Paradis, playfully interpreted by Brandon Tyler Harris, and divorced from the forest ranger Cherry-Tracy Pulsifer, played by Katharine McLeod, Nat is nothing less than utterly unhappy.
The action does not kick in until, on his 41st birthday’s eve, Guy Gagnon (acted by Ben Loving) offers to take Nat to Boston for a Red Sox vs. Yankees game. Shortly after this, he finds out that his teenage girlfriend – Lureen Legasse (Mary Mossberg) – is back in town. This could be his chance to bring his happiness back, acting on his second chance to resolve what lingered in his mind since he finished high school some 20 years ago, when Lureen left to go to college and he did not follow her steps.
Trouble emerges out of Nat’s decision between trying on his second chances with Lureen the Sunday of his birthday and going with Guy to the game in Boston. We think Nat and Lureen will get back together and second chances will work on them; Nat is confused nonetheless and (like in real life) the decisions he makes change the course of his life. From then on, love is lost and found, in different forms, in an intertwined play where sexuality seems to tremble and will not unravel all the truth about the characters until the very end.
Generally simple in language, albeit witty and sparklingly funny in nature, this play is no common “romantic comedy.” There is no clear boy meets a girl, no clear prediction of what will happen next, but rather a certain sense of surprise for a “wait until the end so you see what’s actually going on in here.”
Through a group of somewhat ludicrous characters, we are introduced to the world of insecurities, fear, monotony and lack of ambition that sucks some people’s blood in certain rural communities all over the state. This hilarious yet serious account of life in Northern Maine may universally speak for people raised in rural places who struggled to get out and never made it or who actually made it yet left behind certain things.
Already known for writing about his home-state, Cariani brings up the somewhat universal message that being oneself, regardless of your location, renders essential to finding happiness; something that the cast of this production has managed to convey very neatly.