Review: Geva's 'Last Gas' an everyday love story

04:15 PM, Jan 13, 2014

Aaron Munoz and Brenda Withers in Geva's Last Gas. (Ken A. Huth/ / Photo provided by Geva)/


Written By Marcia Morphy

If you go

What:
Last Gas by John Cariani.
When: Through Feb. 2.
Where: Geva Theatre Center,

75 Woodbury Blvd.
Cost: Tickets start at $25.
For tickets: (585) 232-4382

or gevatheatre.org.

The heart knows what it must have, and on the eve of his birthday, all Nat Paradis wants in life is to feel happy.

In just 24 hours time, the dogged Red Sox fan who runs his father Dwight’s convenience store in rural Maine will come to a life-changing decision — when he awkwardly reunites with his high school flame, Lurene, who briefly returns home to bury her mother after spending 16 years away living in New York City.

John Cariani’s Last Gas — being performed for only the second time, at Geva Theatre Center — is a bittersweet romance about two people who lack the courage to admit they love one another. And much like the playwright’s previous romantic comedy — Almost, Maine — which also was a Geva hit, it’s an undeniable winner despite its predictable twist.

The selling point of Last Gas is the everyday realism of the dialogue. And under the taut direction of Skip Greer, the talented cast flesh out the rich interior of his six characters — convincing us in a bit more than two hours that all of their hearts are at risk.

In Robert Koharchik’s eye-catching two-storied stage set of a convenience store/gas station (filled to the brim with household staples, candy, donuts, beer and cigarettes) and overhead living space, we meet sensitive loner Nat (David Mason) and the steady stream of family and friends who care about him.

There’s his woman-chasing father (John Pribyl) with whom he lives; his best friend, Guy (Aaron Munoz), who surprises him for his birthday with a pair of tickets to see their favorite team play in Boston; and his smart, sassy yet respectful 16-year-old son, Troy (the winsome and earnest Nick Erkelens), whom he calls “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” In the mix is his son’s mother, spicy forest ranger Cherry-Tracy (Gabra Zackman), who tries to win Nat back into her household, and edgy former Maine resident Lurene (Brenda Withers), who has never forgotten her first love and how he never followed her as promised to the Big Apple.

Mason as Nat displays a restless energy and puppy dog’s earnestness in a sympathetic character who can make us laugh and cry with him, not at him. And Munoz as his friend reminded me of the uninvited guest who says what he means and means what his says, but always with a hint of sarcasm. The biggest surprise was his country line dance moves — and yes, the man can indeed dance.

Adding the right kind of big-city sophistication is Withers as Lurene, who displays a tender vulnerability and joie de vivre that intermittently sparks the romantic fire between her and Nat. And for comic relief, Zackman is like a breath of fresh mountain air — deliciously funny as a police chief-like ranger who is hellbent on issuing citations, monitoring accidents and moose crossings and sharing the town’s gossip.

When Nat finally arrives at the moment he has been avoiding all of his life, he has to make a choice, but by then, the choice is obvious. By the time Last Gas arrives at its conclusion, we know all the “Maine” answers — not in words, but in feelings.