“This is the oldest working elevator in New York City,” I was warned as I entered the small, wooden lift that spirits audiences up to the Last Room. We made it to the fourth floor—proof that the elevator’s designation checks out—and were seated in an unfinished SoHo loft awash in blue light, where this intimate show is on for a limited eight-night run. The play, inspired by Anthony Bourdain, is a eulogy of sorts to the beloved chef, author and late host of the Emmy-award-winning Parts Unknown.
In June of 2018, Bourdain was found hanging in his hotel bathroom in Kaysersberg, France, in the midst of shooting an episode for his CNN food and travel show. Reports spread quickly and led to an outpouring of tributes from fans, friends, colleagues and news outlets around the world. Nearly five years have elapsed since Bourdain’s death, and yet the loss of the man who endeared himself to millions through his salty, often cynical, voiceovers on the pleasures of a simple meal in a far flung locale lingers in many hearts.
For those still brooding, Last Room, which delves into Bourdain’s psychology and attempts to unpack the myth surrounding him, offers some consolation. The idea for the play came to journalist and playwright Mitch Moxley from Bourdain himself. In an episode of Parts Unknown from Season 8, Bourdain tells viewers, “I had this dream again that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I’m stuck in a vast old Victorian hotel with endless rooms and hallways trying to check out, but I can’t.” The haunting part of the dream, Bourdain reveals, is that “I’m trying to go home, but I can’t quite remember where that is.”
This Hotel California scenario is made real in Last Room. We meet “The Traveler,” played by Jonathan Dauermann, as he wakes from a dream, or more probably, into this nightmare world. The alarm goes off, the light turns on, he sits up in a white terrycloth robe, the kind stocked in most 5-star hotels, and wonders whether he can smoke. He waits a beat, then lights up.
So begins the traveler’s monologue that carries us through the milestones of Bourdain’s life: his early years as a dishwasher, his bohemian life as a chef-writer in the tiny apartment he shares with first wife, his first taste of fame when his memoir Kitchen Confidential becomes an overnight bestseller, the success as an unconventional travel show host that makes him a household name—along with the punishing schedule that replaces his drug addiction and soon has him spending 200 days a year on the road.
Moxley takes an obvious conceit and gives it emotional weight by shedding the glossy, made-for-TV veneer Bourdain became associated with. Instead, he strips his character down to a confused and troubled man who hungers for something that will never satiate him: the way things used to be.
Actor Jonathan Dauermann is a passable double for Bourdain, with a similarly oblong face and squarish jaw. His sardonic yet chummy delivery, in that familiar Bourdainian baritone, accentuates the dark sense of humor underlying the entire script. Though he manages to strike the right tone for most of the play’s 90 minutes, there are points at which Dauermann’s actorly exuberance briefly fractures the illusion. I had a hard time imagining the gravelly voiced Bourdain ever speaking with such breathless excitement.
His only sparring partner comes in the form of “The Concierge.” Played by Reina de Beer, she is all things at once: his first wife, his kitchen mates, a talk show interlocutor and most indelibly, the woman at the front desk who won’t let him check out. De Beer makes quick work of this role, demonstrating a dynamic range of personalities.
The space itself, Bourdain’s metaphorical last room, is brought to life by Anna Rebek’s direction. Images projected onto the wall help transform the room into multiple locations and moods, but otherwise, the close quarters reinforce the claustrophobia and dislocation the traveler feels. We watch the traveler loop through every corner as he smokes a cigarette, cooks aromatics on a hot plate or cracks open a window to yell down into Broome Street below. Most seats are close enough to the stage that you feel the performers are speaking directly to you, pulling youinto the show’s self-referential world.
I was never a die-hard Bourdain fan, but I picked up his memoir and dipped into episodes of Parts Unknown whenever it happened to be on, like many familiar with his work. When I attended a reading of Last Room in 2022, it awakened a sudden craving in me to go deeper, to understand what had driven Bourdain to finally end his life.
In the afterword to the published edition of his script, Moxley confesses, “I had always wanted to be someone like Anthony Bourdain: A swashbuckling, hard living (and drinking), world-traveling lone wolf.” Watching Moxley’s script evolve into a full-fledged play one year later, it occurred to me that the show is not so much a paean for the dead as it is a requiem for the living. Last Room acts as a salve for those still mourning Anthony Bourdain’s death—and presents a rare chance to see their hero live again.
Last Room, showing in SoHo, runs through June 3. Tickets are available.