“On the Beach” at Off the Wall
Even in the face of the obliteration of mankind, love lingers on, tragically.
Most apocalyptic stories offer at least some shimmering shred of hope. Off the Wall Theatre’s season opener, On the Beach, allows none of that.
Dale Gutzman, who also directed, based his play, which premiered Friday, on the 1957 novel by Nevil Shute. On the Beach takes place in mid-century Melbourne, Australia. Nuclear war has devastated the northern hemisphere., polluting the atmosphere with radiation and killing all human and animal life. The only part of the planet still habitable is the far south, though it’s only a matter of time before the air currents carry the poison there too. A colorful, close-knit handful of the world’s final few attempt to live as normally as possible as they cope with a fate beyond their control.
Jeremy C. Welter and Liz Mistele play Peter and Mary Holmes, a young married couple reaping hope from their brand new baby girl. Welter carefully portrays the level-headed and fate-accepting husband, whose love for his hopeful wife “more than life itself” puts him in an unbearable place. Mistele embraces the character of the stubborn new mother, too strung-up on any chance for survival to allow any talk of the inevitable.
Barbara Zaferos and Thomas Welcenbach portray the Holmes’ stuffy, religious neighbors, Doris and Frank Paul. Zaferos preaches the conservative line and establishes Divine purpose in these events, even as she shows us that Doris is scared as hell.
David Roper plays the only Aussie, Julian Osborne, a biochemist bomb-maker. As he tries to justify his life, he drinks himself to death. And yet, Osborne remains determined to live life as fully as possible while he can. Roper manages his character’s competing impulses well.
Sir Douglas Froude, played by Lawrence Lukasavage, provides most of the play’s necessary comedic relief. His sherry-driven random fits of deep-belly laughter at all the wrong moments, clueless facial expressions and sexual innuendos remind us that even in the most direst situations, it is possible to smile.
On the Beach feels gentle and slow, particularly when the majority of the characters are “filmed” for the last human documentary. Yet the production also weighs in with great power, from tense and explosive arguments to thought-provoking, contemplative discussions about what it means to be alive.
These characters face not only death, but also life as radiation closes in on Melbourne.
On the Beach runs through Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $23.50 general admission and $26.50 reserved seating. Student prices apply for some performances. To order, call (414) 327-3552 or go to Off the Wall’s website.