The Last Class: a Jazzercize Play makes the most of its setting. The story is told in real time during an actual jazzercize routine. The cast’s hard-earned sweat is corporeal proof of their characters’ internal conflicts. There are no convenient black-outs or set-changes to catch your breath during. The relentless peppiness of the exercise routine and the instructor’s downward spiral is an emotional workout not to be missed.
Though billed as jazzercise’s last hurrah in the face of trendier exercise routines, The Last Class shies away from aging and how we too can become obsolete. Instead, The Last Class is a meditation on failure without such an easy excuse.
Playwright Megan Hill also stars as Kelsea, the class’s manically devoted instructor, supported by her mild-mannered assistant MJ, played by Amy Staats. Kelsea’s nemesis, Chelsea, is a woman her own age, who eclipsed Kelsea in popularity throughout high school. Chelsea has just become athletic director at the community center and is taking over with her more popular Zumba class, thus robbing Kelsea of her students and her greatest achievement in life. Kelsea’s struggle hinges on MJ, who is caught between loyalty to her friend and the possessive, desperate affection of her mere jazzercise instructor.
The show’s greatest strength is the depth of its two leads. MJ using exercise to regain autonomy over her body after two pregnancies is endearing if not inspiring, but she’s also turning her back on Kelsea. It’s easy to root for Kelsea as she clings tighter to this connection she has to her late mother in the face of cancellation and an injured knee, but she’s condescending, dismissive, and controlling towards her one “friend.”
The leads are supported by two unnamed students, evidence of Kelsea’s dwindling class size and played by friends of the production in single-serving cameos. Two new performers step in for each performance. Opening Night saw a surprising range in choices: Melissa Bustamente went for laughs as she dragged her feet to the music, while Christina Ruppert effortlessly breezed through the workout without complaint. Both contributed to the setting well and gave Hill and Staat something valuable to play off of.
The Last Class: A Jazzercize Play
closes August 21, 2016
Details and tickets
The jazzercise soundtrack is a character unto itself, at times complementing or clashing with Kelsea or MJ to great effect. It also provides Hill and Staats with a comedic-timing metronome; the show is packed with hilarious writing perfectly in sync with infectious beats.
With so many moving parts working in its favor, the show would benefit from greater consistency. Setting it in real time and real space keeps the tension high and true, until it’s marred late in the game by an aside. The lights fade, the music goes ghostly, and Kelsea walks the audience through already well-understood motivations.
Also, Kelsea’s injured knee serves as a Chekov’s gun to raise the stakes, but spends too much time invisible to the audience, not informing Hill’s physicality, and thus exerting no looming threat.
Around the time that the realistic setting is broken up by Kelsea’s surreal monologue, the show begins to flag. But it is worth considering that it goes the way of an actual exercise routine and how a lot of us face, or choose not to face, our obstacles.
The greatest emotional exertion comes around the middle, as Kelsea’s jazzercize instructor act breaks into unbridled rage towards her failures and her perceived enemy. This is the time and place she can exert herself and feel those emotions, and it’s cathartic for the audience.
But, as she struggles to make it to the end of her routine, Kelsea’s day-to-day persona reasserts control. Instead of storming out of the place in a vengeful bloodlust, expectations for how a person, especially a woman, must act strip away Kelsea’s choices. She is no Don Quixote, and neither are we. The peppy music and comradery fade to frustrated ambition and failure. It would be hard to take, were it not done so well.
The Last Class by Megan Hill. Directed by Margot Bordelon. Starring Megan Hill and Amy Staats. Choreography: Sarita Lou . Lighting design: David C. Ghatan . Stage Manager: Laura Schlachtmeyer . Class participants: Kathleen Akerley, Judith Baicich, Sara Barker, Melissa Bustamente, Sara Cormeny, Kate Debelack, and Christina Ruppert . Produced by DODO. Presented by the Klunch. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.