Hollywood Fringe 2019
With creative staging and a delightful ensemble, The Last Croissant offers a whimsical version of the classic farce in the great outdoors.
The Attic Collective’s latest piece is wonderfully atmospheric. Even with the limitations of a Fringe run, they manage to create a very complete production with a unique and charming aesthetic worthy of their whimsical promotional artwork. Having their fifteen-minute load-in down to a science, the team rapidly transforms the Broadwater Main Stage into a campground with linen A-frame tents, plush green carpet grass, a picnic table littered with an impossible amount of food and sundries, a camp stove with tea set, and a campfire composed of yellow and red Edison bulbs, around which the cast sits in camp chairs, singing songs to warm up the crowd during preshow. This opening welcomes the audience into their universe: one of sunscreen, bug spray, hikes, birding, and swims in the lake. It’s difficult to not feel cheerful, and this core charm—of both the production and its ensemble– is what really holds The Last Croissant together.
The show is a blend of the farcical with the surreal. In a cramped campground that keeps getting more visitors than anyone bargained for, archetypal characters cross paths in different combinations, rapidly enter and exit tents and run off into the woods, rather than the traditional disappearing in and out of doors. There’s the wealthy older couple, Frederick and Imogen—played across genders by Julia Finch and Luke Medina, the bumbling, opportunist duo Mumbo and Jumbo, delightfully played by Meg Cashel and Tyler Bremer, the overworked October and her stoner twin February (both by Veronica Tijoe) all over seen by the earnest, rule-biding Ranger Dave played with pitch-perfect homegrown charm by Conor Murphy. Generally, the acting hits the necessary broad strokes that allows the comedy to land, with some moments of emotion adding a touch of depth without feeling contrived. Each character is well-defined and they play perfectly well together, though I was especially drawn to the wonderful co-dependent clown dynamic of Mumbo and Jumbo—I could watch an entire spin off show centered on them alone. The surreal elements enter with the less expected supporting roles, who steal the show—Kat Devoe Peterson’s Tea Bag is completely endearing, while Brandom Blum is hilarious as the Bear.
Much of the charm of the production comes from its home-grown aesthetic– sound effects are created within view of the audience, shadow puppetry is used with remarkable effectiveness to create the illusion of October and February occupying the same tent, and inexplicable paper cranes are announced as they fall into the scene by an actor perched atop a ladder. Although the fourth wall is generally present, the production keeps the audience involved with these different elements.
While on the whole the piece was entertaining and engaging, a few threads didn’t quite tie up for me, most of which could be remedied with some refocusing and revision. For one, at 90 minutes the show feels long, especially since there are several plot elements that arise and are unresolved and could probably just be cut altogether to tighten the show. Indeed, certain characters disappear altogether without any reason. For me, an overarching paper crane motif ultimately didn’t have a payoff, which was a little bit disappointing. It seems a bit odd to establish paper cranes as a metaphor but then have the characters, within their reality, actually see them, to have them then disappear from the conversation again. If they were a metaphor for chaos or disorder, which I believe may have been the idea, the acknowledgement of them within the play’s reality seems to undermine that. I’m also unsure of what comment was being attempted in the cross-gender casting—Julia and Luke had great and heart-warming chemistry, but I personally couldn’t tell what I was supposed to take away from the choice to have a bearded cisgender male playing femme. Without having a clear intent, this runs the risk of coming across as mockery to those of us who are not in on the behind the scenes conversation, given the tradition of straight men drag as a gimmick in the theatre. I have no doubt this was not the intention, as the character was played with empathy and sincerity, but the optics of it felt off. Lastly, I would have loved to see the title of the show pay off just a touch more. There is a “last croissant”, but we don’t see or look at it for about forty minutes. The moments of different characters lusting after the croissant are terrific comedy, but we only got to see about three of them do it. It feels like a missed opportunity not to have each character have their own encounter with it, in true farce fashion.
These qualms aside, as a whole The Last Croissant does succeed as a whimsical and entertaining experience that is presented with the confidence and unity of a great ensemble. Even if the audience might not always be sure of what we’re supposed to get out of it, they appear to, and that’s enough to bring us along for the ride.