“Last Night In Inwood” Looks At Generational Tension in the Face of Apocalypse

You’re unlikely to have much more fun observing preparations for an apocalypse than you’ll have while watching Last Night in Inwood, a new play by Alix Sobler that takes place after a cascade of natural disastersand the government’s inability to deal with themcollides with pre-existing political tensions to turn America into total turmoil. Director Matt Stabile, who is also Theatre Lab’s producing artistic director, brings another compelling new play to fruition in this wonderfully crafted world premiere.

Though the entirety of this play takes place in protagonist Danny’s Inwood apartment, the sense of its imploding world is expertly created through details that evoke the story’s NYC setting and the central disaster. For example, news of flooding in Times Square comes in from the television as the Cloisters burn out the window. And though the mask she starts the play wearing is a visual symbol that automatically evokes a disaster of a different kind, it isn’t a virus Danny fears infiltrating but insidious “shit in the air” that can only be assumed is related to this wave of environmental decay. 

Though the first draft of this play dates back to 2016, the idea of how easily structures we think of as solid could dissolve for good is one that’s perhaps even more chilling and compelling now that, as Sobler points out in her playwright’s note, “the delicate structure of civilization as we know it is showing cracks.”

However, though the situation at hand is a serious one, Sobler crafts a play as funny as it is thought-provoking by stranding Dannyand uswith a bunch of quirky and witty characters. The fact that these characters run the gamut in terms of gender, sexuality, background, and generation ensures that each has a unique perspective on the events as they unfoldand that aspects of it inevitably clash with the worldviews of the others.  

Avi Hoffman, Aubrey Elson, Paolo Pineda, Lynette Adames, Patti Gardner

First to arrive is Max, Danny’s obnoxious Jewish father, who immediately begins kvetching about his daughter’s lack of appropriate hospitality and whose attitudes are the epitome of “OK Boomer.” Then her Aunt Sheila, the Wiccan ex-hippie divorcee who was the sister of her late mother and who never hesitates to bring up a formative experience at Woodstock. 

Later, neighbor Jazz, a 19 year old college student whose parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic, comes in from across the hall to join the party, followed by Billy, a gay Latinx actor who, when asked his age, replies that he “plays late twenties.” 

All also have their own coping mechanisms for the situation: Danny tries to to keep the peace and plan their next course of action, Sheila tries to preach peace and love, Billy alternates between frantic hypochondria and scrolling Grindr in search of “crazy end of the world sex,” and Jazz tries to play it cool until she can’t. 

Meanwhile, Max’s primary strategy is to maintain a stubborn belief that the government can be trusted to handle the situation and a return to normality is close at hand, even as there gradually appears to be less and less evidence that either of those things will come to pass. 

This ties into the character’s more symbolic role as a representation of the old patriarchal and euro-centric guard that the younger characters and the intensity of the situation increasingly serve to challenge. Aside from, you know, the end of the world, the dissonance between his worldview and the more nuanced viewpoints of the play’s other characters form the core of the story’s conflict. 

In him, Sobler draws a sympathetic portrait of a well-meaning man who simply struggles to accept that the world is not as he always assumed it was. However, Danny’s exasperation with her father’s refusal to face the facts is also completely understandable, as is Jazz’s frustration with his inability to see things from other perspectives until he is violently forced to. 

Jovon Jacobs, Avi Hoffman

As she points out, the reason he’s never examined issues of institutionalized racism is because he’s never had to, whereas it affects characters like Jazz, Billy, and the play’s last arrival, Cal, every day of their lives. 

Cal, a thirty-something black nurse, is Danny’s husband, and is out on a mysterious errand for the first half of the play for a reason Sobler effectively implies without ever having the characters directly state it, and it’s one that’s quite realistic given the dire circumstances and the unenviable decisions that they force.

Though Max is at least astute enough to avoid mentioning it, this fact of Cal’s ethnicity and his unspoken prejudices is one adding to the substantial tension between he and Danny, who is also aware he looks down on her for the lifestyle and profession she has chosen. Hanging over the two is also resentment over her mother’s death, which is effectively referenced early on and then informs a bombshell moment an hour later. 

But though these details probably make this play sound like a downer, I’d like to emphasize again just how many times I found myself laughing during the proceedings, thanks in no small part to a cast of six incredible actors, including Avi Hoffman as the crotchety Max, Paolo Pineda as the high-strung Billy, and Lynette Adames as the sarcastic Jazz. But the show’s crowning moment of hilarity probably belongs to Patti Gardner, when Sheila attempts to center the group with an esoteric prayer directed to various pagan figures. 

While Danny and Cal are the more “straight man” characters to the others’ extremity, Aubrey Elson is a perfect fit as Danny, helping make her a relatable central figure, and Jovon Jacobs again completely transforms his energy to inhabit the mild-mannered Cal. The two also effectively convey their character’s strong relationship—with help from excellent intimacy choreography by Nicole Perry—as they share a charged and believable moment of passion amidst disaster.

Avi Hoffman, Aubrey Elson, Paolo Pineda, Lynette Adames, Patti Gardner

I haven’t even begun to get at the nuance of all the intricate humor and insightful commentary of this play, but since I’ve already spent a few hundred words rambling, I’ll close by mentioning one of the moments I found most resonant—which was Sheila’s attempt to blame Netflix, of all things, for the apocalypse at hand. 

Yes, it sounds at first like a non-sequitur, but she then pins it as partially responsible for the lack of a sense of community that comes with everyone watching the same TV program at the same time rather than to each their own. Since community-or-lack-thereof—and the significance of theatre as a medium that thrives on physical togetherness and shared experience—has been one of my defining obsessions for a while now, I can see the logic of this idea. So, while it’s still probably a bit hyperbolic of me to suggest that your attendance at Last Night In Inwood might prevent the next apocalypse, I’d still encourage you to go check it out before this February 12!

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