'The Sunset Limited' @ Theatre Theater:A couple of guys in a dingy room talking about the meaning of existence might not sound like the stuff of edge-of-your-seat drama, but leave it to Cormac McCarthy ("The Road," "No Country for Old Men") to invest a faith-versus-reason debate with life or death consequences in his taut 2006 two-hander, "The Sunset Limited."
A superb staging by Rogue Machine's John Perrin Flynn renders McCarthy's distinctively spare, evocative dialog with the agility of a fencing match: "You see everything in black and white." - "It is black and white." - "I suppose that makes the world easier to understand." - "You might be surprised about how little time I spend trying to understand the world."
The ironies are densely packed in these terse exchanges. Black and White are in fact the unnamed sparring opponent's only scripted monikers, encompassing their respective skin color, their social status and their philosophical outlooks. White (Ron Bottitta) is a professor, a jaded atheist who lives in a world of abstract conceptualization; Black (Tucker Smallwood), an ex-con turned devout Christian, is all about practical street smarts, concrete experience and rescuing others (even those he may not like).
Despite the seemingly polarized setup, McCarthy has crafted a work of supple nuance and shifting sympathies. Chance brought these men together on a subway platform when Black rescued White from an attempted suicide leap. Now they sit in Black's Harlem tenement apartment, locked in a high-stakes intervention.
McCarthy's writing combines a pitch-perfect ear for naturalistic speech with a poet's eloquent efficiency, particularly in Black, who steers most of the discussion in lively, often hilarious ghetto dialect. Black's religious faith is refreshingly neither naive nor narrow-minded, and Smallwood's masterful performance radiates dignity, authority and generosity of spirit as Black wheedles, browbeats and plies White with (literal) soul food in an attempt to persuade him to go on living.
Bottitta's more articulate White convincingly seethes with so much rage and disillusionment at the failure of higher learning, art and culture to redeem evil that he craves nothingness.
The modern urban setting and lack of onstage action may seem a departure of sorts from McCarthy's usual territory. But with so much at stake in whether White can recognize the unexpected kind of redemption embodied in an unsophisticated reformed criminal, the electrifying dialogue still keeps us on the edge of our seats. What more could you ask for?
- Philip Brandes
"The Sunset Limited," Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends December 19. $25. (323) 960-4424 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours.
BACKSTAGE WEST: Critic's Pick
The Sunset Limited
Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater
Reviewed by Les Spindle
November 11, 2010
Two galvanizing performances illuminate the rich thematic musings in this literate existential parable by Cormac McCarthy ("The Road," "No Country for Old Men"). This Steppenwolf-bred play, brilliantly directed in its L.A. premiere by John Perrin Flynn, brings to mind the enigmatic dramaturgic terrain of Samuel Beckett, though "The Sunset Limited" initially appears to be grounded in a more tangible sphere of human existence. McCarthy sets forth disturbing and thought-provoking ruminations on mortality, religious faith, extreme violence, and our responsibilities to fellow humans.
Into his cramped tenement apartment in Harlem, an African-American ex-con called Black (Tucker Smallwood) brings a Caucasian college professor, White (Ron Bottitta), after averting White's suicide attempt in the subway. Black is trying to prevent White from repeating his self-destructive act, but the still-distraught White, an avowed atheist, is interested only in cutting their conversation short and leaving. Black admits he nearly died following a violent encounter in prison, but he experienced an epiphany that gave him a new perspective on life. As the men debate questions of religious faith, the struggle between their opposing views raises more-complex issues. Their encounter might be more ethereal than it seems. The initially dominant Black has lessons to learn from White, who subtly begins taking charge of their tense interactions. A provocatively ambiguous ending allows for intriguing reflections on the characters and their possible fates.
Smallwood offers a compelling portrait of a man scarred by life's harsh blows who believes he has found a path to spiritual salvation, which he wants to share with others. At times frightening, at others amusing and reassuring, Smallwood's beautifully nuanced characterization is mesmerizing. Bottitta's depiction of White's journey is equally layered and deeply affecting, showing us the character's desperation and despondency, as well as his resignation to what he considers inevitable. These actors command our attention for two uninterrupted hours with their skillfully calibrated interplay and the intelligence they bring to these challenging roles. Flynn's direction is taut and insightful, and he receives first-rate support from his design collaborators (set designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, costume designer Lauren Tyler, lighting designer Dan Weingarten, and sound designer Joseph Slawinski), who enhance the unnerving mood with their stark but arresting contributions.
Presented by Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. Nov. 6Dec. 19. Thu.Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 960-4424 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
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Theatre Theater is back at Theatre Theater
Nicolette Chaffey produces, Jeff Murray directs
The Motor Trade by Norm Foster
Canada's most popular playwright
like you have never seen him before
in the context of a 12 step Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
Under the direction of Renny Temple....
the unutterable degradation and sadism and lunacy simply make the blood run cold.
Mills is as raw as the competition is slick, like an eccentric uncle with a tawdry past and a glint in his eye.
You're glad you are not him and you want to hear more "
Steven Leigh Morris LA Weekly
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Oyster By Ronald McCants
Reading directed by Katie Lindsay
Featuring Gregg T. Daniel and Johnny Ray Gill
Join us for a reading of a powerful, honest new play by Ronald McCants, 2010 Theater Masters Visionary Playwright Award Winner. An epic exploration of the Black-American experience through the prism of one father and son relationship.
A Black-American man reconnects with the biological son he abandoned many years ago. As the two get to know each other, secrets from the past emerge that threaten to change everything. Can we ever know the truth of our own history? How can ghosts from our past destroy us? And how do we free ourselves from the demons that haunt us?
Ronald McCants' work draws on the collective black experience. We want to share our work with the communities we are representing. We hope to bring a fully realized production of Oyster to churches, community centers, youth centers and high schools, reaching audiences that might not otherwise have access to professional theater. We hope this reading will serve to raise awareness about our project.
November 1, 8pm @ Theatre/Theater
5041 Pico Blvd Los Angeles, CA $10 suggested donation