The world premiere of First Step Productions' Last Call on its opening night at Empire Stage last Friday was a miserable experience. It had nothing to do with skilled director Michael Leeds or this one-woman show's incredibly creative performer, Terri Girvin. The fault lay entirely with the audience, especially the contingency of inebriated Neanderthals in the front row who apparently thought that the show — set inside a bar — was an interactive production.
One of these disrespectful trolls actually shouted, "Yo, bartender!" when Girvin made her entrance, prompting Leeds to stop the show before it started and reprimand these oversized children like a scolding teacher. Leeds' warning stopped the catcalls but not the incessant self-absorbed chattering, hand signals, and, most disruptively, the constant walking in and out of the venue as if it were the revolving door of a bank. The constant commotion took the wind out of Girvin's sails. She flubbed a number of lines, and once she had to stop the show to placate an interrupter. She was off her game, but who could blame her?
I assume the show itself is terrific, if you attend on a luckier night. What I gathered from Last Call — mostly in the last 20 minutes, after the troublemakers left — reveals Girvin to be a versatile performer, seesawing between comedy and tragedy in an autobiographical tour de force. With few props, she pantomimes a night tending bar, which she does when she's not toiling as a standup comic. Addressing the audience, she hilariously tackles barroom protocol and etiquette with help from a chorus of prerecorded voices. Every now and then, a moment will trigger a flashback, mostly relating to her kooky, alcoholic mother, whom she then portrays.
Girvin is alternately charming, caustic, and heartbreaking. In dealing with this audience from hell, she's infinitely patient. Leeds directs like the pro he is. Last Call is most impressive when Girvin unravels: a diminutive spark plug holding up the harried world on her shoulders like Atlas.
Or maybe it just seemed most impressive because the peanut gallery had abandoned its front-row post. No matter what theater company rents it out, the Empire Stage space has always given wine to guests. Maybe the free alcohol isn't the best idea. But if the staff puts a moratorium on the vino, it'll be another case of a few bad apples ruining the fun for the rest of us adults.