A program note by Maya Contreras, the playwright of “Let the Devil Take The Hindmost,” explains that two specific days were significant in motivating her to write this play – the day that 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by the police in Cleveland, and the day of the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The play is set in Washington D.C. in 1969, when the characters “attempt to make sense of a violent decade.”
All of this promises a play about violence and its effects, but that’s not what Contreras has written.
Instead, “Let the Devil Take The Hindmost” is a 70-minute play about a middle class, mixed-race family that offers a modicum of poignancy and levity but little urgency. The implied point of the piece gets buried by the desultory details, which touch on a range of social issues at the expense of narrative momentum.
Vera is a math teacher with a drinking problem and a nasty streak. In the beginning of the play, she rips up a conciliatory letter from her pregnant and estranged daughter Pauline while taking swigs of vodka. Then she has a drunken tantrum directed at her ever-patient husband Pablo, an art history professor.
Over the course of the play, Vera repeatedly visits her mother in a nursing home (we never see the mother, just a nurse at the facility.) Her husband Pablo becomes infatuated with one of his students, and then announces he wants to separate from his wife. Pauline finally visits with her mother and father, taking along the father of her unborn child. Her boyfriend Michael is a spiritual, politically active hippy vegetarian in bell-bottom pants who has taken a vow of silence (much milked for comic relief.) If the scenes are intermittently engaging, it’s only near the end of the play that the characters’ actions contain anything remotely connected to violence – first, a debate between mother and daughter about the efficacy of political activism, which makes it clear that Vera has little hope that things can change; and then a revelation about Vera’s past that helps us understand why she has become a bitter virago.
Director Lorca Peress oversees a competently professional cast, but as Vera, Broadway veteran actress Thursday Farrar transforms from over-the-top to sympathetic without the credible arc or dramatic jolt that might have justified the digressive-feeling scenes that lead up to it.
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