THE LAST MAN ON EARTH by the ensemble (Keystone). At Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to April 13, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $25. 416-368-3110. See listing. Rating: NNN
The effervescent spirit of silent films inspires Keystone Theatre, whose speechless creations rely on physical theatre, title cards and live piano music to tell a story.
Their latest ensemble-developed show, The Last Man On Earth, is a good-versus-evil tale in which the Devil (Stephen La Frenie) trying to best Gormless Joe (Phil Rickaby), a hapless human who just wants to fall in love. Joe has the chance with the innocent, pie-baking Penelope (Dana Fradkin), but the Devil and his minion (Sarah Joy Bennett) do their best to thwart the romance.
The result is an entertaining, laugh-filled hour directed by Ginette Mohr, even if one of the main characters isn't as well developed as he might be.
The action centres on the Devil's efforts to set up a boxing match with Joe, but until the last scene the good-tempered man laughs off the proposal in favour of turning their relationship into a playful friendship.
Rickaby's expressive Joe is a good match for Fradkin's shy baker, but La Frenie's Devil, who has a soft side that enjoys Chopin, ballet and tea, isn't as strongly defined. He doesn't need to be a wholly demonic Prince of Darkness, but there's a strength and power missing until the final battle.
The character you'll remember best is the minion, costumed by Kimberly Beaune as a bedraggled bat - the show's visuals are all black and white, like early films - with tattered wings, tail and large, pointy ears.
This mischievous imp is quite a hoofer and a drama queen to boot. Watch how she reacts to a gluttonish birthday bash, her impersonation of a good-time girl and how her loyalties switch from the demonic to the human. She'll tickle your funny bone and win your heart in the process.
The music's as important as the lively performances, and pianist David Atkinson offers a creative score. More than simple accompaniment, his tuneful, emotionally suggestive contributions range from classical scores to nursery tunes and standard silent-film ditties that conjure up dastardly villains (in the piano's low register) and light-hearted heroes (higher up the keys).