Aaron and Wes have broken up, but Aaron can’t seem to let go, in “Last Ditch Playlist,” Brad Baron’s semi-autobiographical play about his first love and his first breakup, which is running through Sunday at TheaterLab. Baron, an actor and writer, stars as Aaron, an actor and a writer, who is writing a play about their relationship and their break-up, entitled “Last Ditch Playlist.” Aaron tells Wes what he’s doing.
“It should make for a good ten minute story,” Wes says, superior-sounding to the end.
“Glad you can condense the story of our entire relationship into just ten minutes,” Aaron replies.
If only. Brad Baron’s play is some two hours long, which feels perhaps twice as long as it should be.
Baron has said that his play asks the question: How do you put back together a broken heart? But the play provoked other questions for me as well. Is it possible for an artist to be detached enough to bring theatrical clarity to the personal confusion in the aftermath of a lost love? And how do I offer constructive criticism about an ambitious, germinating Off-Off Broadway play that straddles the line between brave candor and self-indulgence?
On paper at least, “Last Ditch Playlist” has an intriguing structure, which we’re clued into from the title. Aaron has made a playlist of the songs that Wes told him he should be listening to, which he labels a Last Ditch Playlist. Aaron calls it that because Wes sees Aaron’s efforts at learning these songs as a last ditch effort to maintain the relationship. Near the end of the play, Aaron says: “My memories of you are like a Playlist on Shuffle: Scattered. Arbitrary. Shuffled. I replay the memories of you like they’re my favorite songs.”
And so, like a mixtape, the scenes of the play are presented in some kind of emotional rather than chronological order, introduced by the projection of a lyric or title from a popular song. The songs are from The Beach Boys and the Beatles, Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman, Joni Mitchell circa 1971 and EMA circa 2011.
One senses there must be an intelligent correlation between songs and scenes, but this might have been easier to grasp fully if this were a novel. The arbitrary shuffling of the timeline also winds up keeping the audience less invested in Aaron and Wes as a couple
On stage, too many of the scenes feel like filler. There are arguments over films and singers; scenes with secondary characters whom we never see again; an entire subplot of sorts involving the ghost of Aaron’s best friend, who committed suicide in high school. There is even a scene in which the Big Bad Wolf tries to blow down the house of the Three Little Piggies, which is meant to be a dream by Aaron (who performs in children’s theater), incorporating arguments Wes and Aaron have had, but isn’t as clever or funny as it’s supposed to be .
For all these barriers, there are moments in “Last Ditch Playlist” that may stay with you. This is thanks in part to the appealing four-member cast. Aaron (Baron) and Wes (Ross McCorkell) spend as much time smooching as arguing. The play is particularly strong in chronicling familiar events that occur in almost any breakup — Aaron’s friend Lexi (Amy Stringer) talks about how she never liked Wes – and in capturing the swirl of indecision and confusion and pain that at one time or another has pegged all of us as Aarons.
Last Ditch Playlist
Aaron: Brad Baron
Wes: Ross McCorkell
Zara/Lexi: Amy Stringer
Kellan/Willie: Dontonio Demarco
Choreographer: Casey Bagnall
Graphic Design: Sarah Cuneo
Lighting Design: James Johnson
Music and Sound Design: Jason Pomerantz
Video Design: Joseph Prestamo