Review: ‘Hope’s Last Chance’ at Exit Theatre

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating:**)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Hope’s Last Chance” plays at The Exit Theatre from October 3 through October 26, 2013.)

Ghost stories are hard. Comedy is hard. A comic ghost story is a delicate operation, full of pitfalls and challenges. In “Hope’s Last Chance”, Rod McFadden has definitely got the skeleton, so to speak, of a solid and stage worthy comedy spook show. The playwright certainly has fun with many of the cliches of the genre: the isolated country inn, the stormy weather, a ghostly child in need, a mysterious landlady, a cantankerous old codger with a desperate secret, and so on and so forth. He also manages to imbue his hapless haunted couple with an interesting personal subtext that helps us to care about them in their life predicament, bringing a bit of gravitas to an otherwise lightweight story.The result is entertaining, but, in this production, the play is not yet up to full speed. The various elements are cobbled together with difficulty, the spooky effects are not quite up to snuff, and the multiple subplots are strung together in a creaky manner, like a dilapidated old house in  need of restoration.

Kat Bushnell and Wes Cayabayab in "Hope's Last Chance". Photo Credit: Jim Navarro.
Kat Bushnell and Wes Cayabayab in “Hope’s Last Chance”. Photo Credit: Jim Navarro.

Shelley Johnson as the creepy landlady, Mrs. Cutter, manages to strike the right balance between spooky and kooky. Her over-the-top melodramatics are simultaneously frightening and funny. Jeffrey Orth as Mackie brings a surprising depth of characterization to the conflicted old man who knows more than he tells about the haunted history of the inn. For dead people, both John Terrell as Conrad and Ella Zalon as Hope are quite lively.

As the young couple staying at the haunted inn, Kat Bushnell and Wesley Cayabayab are personable. Cayabayab is an interesting and charismatic young actor who will benefit from more experience and a strong directorial hand. Bushnell struggles to find the right tone for this performance.

As always with Wily West, one must acknowledge and admire the company’s dedication to new work by local playwrights. With “Hope’s Last Chance”, they have given a first production to a play with considerable potential. Hopefully, there will be further incarnations as the piece continues to develop.

For further information, click here.

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“Hope’s Last Chance” by Rod McFadden, world premiere presented by Wily West Productins. Director: Brady Brophy-Hilton. Sets & Lighting Design: Quinn J. Whitaker. Costume Design: Ellen Chestnut.

Angela: Kat Bushnell. Stan: Wesley Cayabyab. Hope” Ella Zalon. Mrs. Cutter: Shelley Johnson. Mackie: Jeffrey Orth. Conrad: John Terrell.

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