By Jeff Smith; Directed by Dan Dinero
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.24.19
The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street
by Asya Gorovits on 8.20.19
Hanjie Chow, Matthew Schatz, and Kyla Sylvers in Last Gasp. Photo by Ahron Foster.
BOTTOM LINE: A comedy about a sex industry startup attempts to explain what it is that women want in bed with Artificial Intelligence.
Thomas (Hanjie Chow) and Evan (Matthew Schatz) are the embodiment of the modern-day American dream. A tech nerd and a business school dropout, they are best friends and partners in a startup with a mission to revolutionize the female orgasm with a "smart" vibrator. But it is not easy to make in Silicon Valley. By the time we meet those two at their San Francisco lab (refurbished from a dentist's office), their million-dollar idea hangs on a shoe-string budget. With her expertise in investment and a much-needed female perspective, Denise (Kyla Sylvers) is their best shot at saving the company. But will this business triangle withstand the pressures of arrogance, mistrust and budding romantic feelings?
Last Gasp by Jeff Smith is a chamber production tackling a massive topic. Written in the style of a sitcom, kind of like The Big Bang Theory, the play relies on the characters’ charisma. Unfortunately the cast, led by director Dan Dinero, has somewhat unsettled chemistry (understandable considering that Chow only joined the production a day before the first performance). However, Chow does a great job portraying a self-conscious genius with a fish, Holmes, as a sidekick. Schatz nails it as a sly salesman obsessed with his body shape. And Sylvers follows the unbeaten path performing female sexuality as calm and powerful as opposed to neurotic, mysterious, or any other cliche.
Despite Thomas’s occasionally smutty slogans like “Opening minds through opening the legs,” the play navigates the dangerous intersection of sex and business relationships smartly. The characters start with assumptions based on gender stereotyping and awkward flirting. Then they go through a sober and constructive debate on taboo topics. They arrive at a post-gender vision of sexual pleasure rooted in care and not in self-serving greed.
In the days of AI living in our bedrooms, how are human sexuality, and the female orgasm in particular, really affected? I wish the playwright had had the guts to go all the way down this path, instead of circling around and spending time on “smart” verbiage. It's interesting that the play parallels questions of control, collaboration, and creativity in both pleasure and business, but I had hoped the answers would be more satisfying. One might argue with Last Gasp’s answer to the question “What do women want?” but it is certainly interesting to hear it out.
[Editor's Note: Director Dan Dinero is also Theasy's Editor in Chief, but he had no part in this review.]
(Last Gasp plays at The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street, through August 24, 2019. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without an intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $50 and are available at lastgasp.show.)
Last Gasp is by Jeff Smith. Directed by Dan Dinero. Set and Props Design by Lauren Barber. Costume Design by Sonya Plenefisch. Lighting Design by Elizabeth M. Stewart. Lighting Associate is Eden Guill. Stage Manager is Chiara Johnson.
The cast is Hanjie Chow, Matthew Schatz, and Kyla Sylvers.