A convenience store cashier endures a stream of oddball customers, arguments about 1970s movies, even a drop-in by an ex-girlfriend now engaged to be married to someone else — the synopsis might suggest we’re watching an early Kevin Smith movie. If only. Seattle playwright Wayne Rawley’s “Live! From the Last Night of My Life” at Sacred Fools Theater suffers by comparison with its obvious sources of inspiration.
Set in 1999, Rawley’s dark comedy centers around sad sack Doug (Pete Caslavka), a onetime computer wiz who missed his shot at dot-com wealth and now works behind the counter of scenic designer David Knutson’s meticulously detailed tawdry mini-mart.
Wavering in his resolve to blow his brains out at the end of his graveyard shift (get it?), Doug confronts past mistakes and present futility through real and imaginary encounters, culminating in otherworldly counsel imparted by his movie role model of coolness — Danny Zuko from “Grease,” who urges him to reconsider his suicide plan. In other words, “Clerks” meets “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Caslavka’s Doug earns sympathy through insightful rebuttals to glib platitudes that life is inherently worth living, but these monologues are rare islands of sharp writing amid a three-hour sprawl. Of 11 actors in more than 40 roles, the standouts are Joseph Beck as Doug’s father and Peter Fluet as Doug’s counterpart at a rival store, but for the most part JJ Mayes’ staging settles for over-the-top caricatures.
Rawley’s structurally problematic script introduces and abandons characters and story elements with no payoff and misleads with sucker-punch scenes that turn out not to be real. Setting a play in a convenience store doesn’t excuse cutting corners for the sake of narrative convenience.
“Live! From the Last Night of My Life,” Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, also 8 p.m. Dec. 5 and 12. Ends Dec. 21. $20 (Dec. 5 pay-what-you-can). (310) 281-8337 or www.sacredfools.org. Running time: 3 hours.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times