By: Paulanne Simmons
September 28, 2021: The year is 1985. It’s a warm winter day on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where the Oki Dog, a hot dog stand run by a middle-aged Asian-American named Eddie (Amir Malaklou), serves as the meeting place and battleground for a rowdy clientele of drifters, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes. The place is deserted, except for Twilight (Kara Arena), who sleeps on the table, and Eddie, who’s cleaning up, getting ready for the hot dog stand’s last day before the police shut it down for good. Apparently, the neighbors have had enough.
Jeff Smith and Len Wechsler’s The Last Night at the Oki Dog, directed by Christopher Scott, is part of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival (BBTF) 2021, at Theater Row. It’s about the kind of lost souls we like to see on stage but not in real life. Twilight is a loner and runaway who can’t escape the guilt she bears for a crime she did not commit Amoura (Alex Might) is a trans woman who seems perpetually on the verge of damaging herself or being destroyed by someone else. Kyle (Joseph Elliot Rodriguez) is a bar fighter, a tough guy who’s got one soft spot and that’s for his girlfriend, Joanna (Stephanie Bascatow), a wannabe singer whose dreams are much bigger than her voice. There are more, probably more than most audiences can keep track of, certainly more than necessary.
As the play opens, they all have two concerns: where will they all go when the hot dog stand closes and where is Sweet Pea, who is young, gay and apparently exceptionally vulnerable. They’re also wary of Harry (Pete McElligott), the local homicide detective, who likes black coffee, James Joyce and Chet Baker. But the person they should be afraid of is Long Beach (Mirko Faienza), a ruthless drug dealer and pimp who lacks only horns and a tail to make him complete.
And then Pendleton (Evan Leone) arrives. He’s looking for his son. A few days ago, someone (who the audience already knows is Twilight) called his wife and told her their son was hanging out at the hot dog stand and doesn’t belong there. From that point on, the ending is clear, and Smith and Wechsler don’t stray from the path.
There’s the seed of a good play in The Last Night at the Oki Dog. But that seed could only flower if the play transcended the all too familiar stereotypes of the misfit and the outcast. Unfortunately, amongst all those hopped-up and down-and-out characters there’s not a single one we haven’t met before… many, many times.
Smith and Wechsler can certainly write punchy dialogue that carries us from scene to scene. But the punches all land in the same place and the play doesn’t take us anywhere we haven’t been before.
The cast is mostly adequate, at times even a bit more. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any actor who could shine while saying lines like “I always wanted to take a raft down the Mississippi River, Huck Finn style” or telling the story of how her father was killed in a car crash while buying strawberry ice cream for his “little song bird” on her birthday.
The Last Night at the Oki Dog is peopled with a lot of characters we would like to care about… in principle. But first we’d have to get to know them much, much better.
Photography Emily Hewitt