Last Night in Inwood
A World Premiere Production by Theatre Lab
By: Aaron Krause - Feb 03, 2023
“Sometimes you just have to… encourage them to dig deep and find some potential they didn’t know they had,” Max explains in Alix Sobler’s play, Last Night in Inwood.
In Sobler’s moving, tense, timely, and funny piece, Max is referring to batteries.
Specifically, he humorously suggests that, by encouraging the batteries of a smoke detector to dig and discover, he fixed them. Certainly, it is an amusing, if not hilarious line in Last Night in Inwood.
The play is experiencing a strong world premiere production by Theatre Lab, Florida Atlantic University’s professional resident company in Boca Raton dedicated solely to new work.
In the production, which runs through Feb. 12, actor Avi Hoffman, as Max, says the line with enough sincerity that it garners laughs.
On a serious note, you could say that the characters populating the play dig deep and find potential that they may not have realized they had. Specifically, the characters discover that, despite their tendency to argue, they can find just enough common ground to allow them to work as a team to survive.
In fact, people in real life have the potential to get along as well…if only they dug deep enough to uncover that potential, Sobler seems to say through her play.
Unquestionably, the piece is in tune with today’s zeitgeist. Indeed, it can be tough to get through each day during an age in which illness, extreme weather events, violence, hatred, divisiveness, and more threaten to tear the world apart.
In Last Night in Inwood, a mysterious disaster in New York City forces residents to find safe ground. While Sobler offers few specifics about the disaster, we come to understand that it resulted from the combined effects of climate change, economic distress, the rise of white supremacy, and other ills.
And, so, with rioting and looting rampant, New York City officials encourage everyone to remain home. If not, there is a good chance that officials will round up residents and separate them by race and class in order to prevent further violence. In other words, residents might find themselves in “concentrated areas called camps,” in the playwright’s words. It sounds scary and eerily familiar, doesn’t it?
Last Night in Inwood is an eye-opening cautionary tale for our troubled times. But instead of preaching, Sobler grabs and keeps our attention through comedy and relatable characters. Indeed, they may remind you of a family member, a friend, a neighbor…or even yourself.
Actually, as much as they bicker with and insult each other, this group of characters is a microcosm of our divisive society today.
Last Night in Inwood takes place “shortly in the future,” Sobler wrote in her script. The piece is more of a character study than a play with a traditional plot.
In the play, the characters all find themselves in husband-and- wife Danny and Cal’s one-bedroom apartment in Inwood, located in northern Manhattan. Everybody is hoping that the residence keeps them safe from the disaster outside while they determine what their next step will be.
But this is hardly the sole source of strong conflict that suffuses the play. For instance, arguments arise based on different generational views and political leanings. Before this night is over, members of different generations will have pointed fingers at each other, blaming each other for the world’s ills, including the current situation.
Of course, the group of characters includes homeowners Danny (that’s how she spells her name, likely short for Danielle) and Cal, possibly short for Calvin.
Danny is a Jewish social worker and is married to Cal, a Black nurse. Danny’s father, Max, is a politically conservative and proudly Jewish dentist who does not seem particularly concerned about the disaster. Everything will be OK, he tells the others, putting his complete faith in the wisdom of government officials to resolve the crisis.
Meanwhile, standing in strong opposition to Max is his spiritual sister-in-law, Sheila. She is obviously politically liberal and kind of a hippie. Sheila claims to have benefited mightily from her time at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969, commonly known as Woodstock. The multi-day fair was a defining event for the counterculture generation.
In addition to the family members, Jazz and Billy are trying to keep safe in the apartment. Jazz is a Dominican-American college student, and Danny’s neighbor. Another neighbor is Billy, an Asian-American actor and part-time New York City tour guide.
Often, the characters talk down to each other, loudly and condescendingly. The sarcasm escaping their lips can sting.
But there are also peaceful moments in the play during which the characters get along.
To be specific, Jazz notices Max’s Jewish prayer shawl and asks about it.
Jazz: So, what is it?
Max: A prayer shawl. It was my father’s/actually my grandfather’s.
Jazz: Oh. Like a, whatcha call it. A tallis.
Max: Right. How’d you know that?
Jazz: Religions of the world, freshman year.
The exchange is the kind that we need more of today, the playwright seems to indirectly say. If people could learn about and respect each other’s differences, this might be a more peaceful world.
While this play is unflinching at times, laughter helps keep it from becoming a depressing piece foreshadowing a grim future. For instance, the following exchange helps keep the tone light.
Billy (checking his phone): Shit. I was just in the middle of setting up a date with this guy.
Jazz: Wait, are you seriously using Grindr right now?
Billy: Well, not anymore. What? You know a better time to have crazy end-of-the-world sex?
Under Matt Stabile’s sensitive direction, which includes smart staging and deft pacing, palpable tension exists during tense scenes. And dark moments contrast markedly from lighter scenes.
The acting is strong; each performer creates a distinct and believable, relatable character. The cast features a mixture of experienced, well-respected actors and newcomers.
Hoffman, as an opinionated Max, and Aubrey Elson, as Danny, are believable as a father and daughter who get on each other’s nerves. But the actors also convince us that, deep down, these people love each other. Elson and Jovon Jacobs, as Cal, also have strong chemistry as husband and wife.
One of the funniest moments in the play comes when Sheila, after suggesting that everybody pray, offers a Wiccan prayer. Patti Gardner, in a natural, multi-faceted performance as Sheila, intones loudly and with sincerity, earning the loudest laughs of the evening.
Meanwhile, Jacobs imbues Cal with the kind of urgency and determination that helps keep the dramatic tension thick.
Paolo Pineda is believably nervous as the sometimes-panicky Billy. In addition, Pineda finds the charm in his character. And Lynette Adames is convincingly assertive and sarcastic as Jazz.
The actors are not the only company members whose work on the production is strong. Behind the scenes, the design team excels as well. In particular, scenic designer Michael McClain has created a neat, organized, and homey looking residence. It suggests order and serenity, quite a contrast from what is happening outside.
Eric Nelson’s lighting helps focus the performers and reinforces the play’s realism, while Dawn C. Shamburger’s costumes help to differentiate the characters.
Thanks, in part, to Matt Corey’s strong sound design, we are able to hear and understand the performers.
Sobler, whose play, The Glass Piano ran on Theatre Lab’s stage in 2020, began writing Last Night in Inwood in the summer of 2016. Certainly, the world was a tense place back then, and it has gotten considerably darker. In addition to increasing signs of climate change and the pandemic, increased instances of hate have people on edge. Certainly, the rise in anti-Semitic attacks make parts of this play particularly timely today.
But regardless of your religion, just about everybody alive today can relate to a remark by Danny. “I think we’ve all aged about three years in the last 24 hours,” she says.
Chances are, the play’s unsatisfying ending purposely leaves us feeling uncertain and unsettled. After all, we must all deal with uncertainty, especially during the troubled times during which we live.
Theatre Lab’s world premiere production of Alix Sobler’s drama, Last Night in Inwood, runs through Feb. 12 at the venue, 777 Glades Road on Florida Atlantic University’s campus in Boca Raton. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Ticket prices range from $35 to $45. Call (561) 297-6124, or go to www.fau.edu/artsandletters/theatrelab.