Bryony Lavery’s Last Easter is a jolly romp on the subject of assisted suicide; the charm of the concept carries its own fatal flaw. Who wouldn’t find a jolly romp refreshing with such grim thoughts in the air? And who wouldn’t, equally, know deep down that there is no relief from the subject, that to invent the romping is at best an act of evasion, at worst sheer irresponsibility. Lavery isn’t so irresponsible as to conceal the terrors she’s dealing with, but she does, evasively, try her best to sweeten the deal. Death here is something you bounce back from with a smile and an aphorism, even if you’re the one who’s died.
Lavery’s characters are theater people, those cheery, chattery folk you can always rely on to brighten things up. The dying woman is a beloved lighting designer with incurable cancer. The three friends who improbably try to help this staunch rationalist by taking her to Lourdes are a predictable array: an earnest (American) prop designer (Clea Lewis); a self-dramatizing, alcoholic actress (Florencia Lozano), who can’t get over her own boyfriend’s suicide; and one of those wholly imaginary all-purpose gay men (Jeffrey Carlson) who can instantly summon up wisecracks, cash, or sex partners at will. They go through various changes of their own while first trying to miracle-cure their friend and then helping her die. But their traumas seem all too patently like carpentered-up distractions from the main event, especially since much of the play is told to us rather than enacted. Lavery handles the narration snappily, with witty proficiency. But only the obstinate, burning clarity of Veanne Cox’s performance as the heroine ever compels you to pay serious attention, though everyone else in Doug Hughes’s cast does first-rate work with their tinselly material.