Sunday, August 11, 2013

THE SUNSET LIMITED • Theatre Lab

There's another new theatre company on the scene, folks -- Theatre Lab, and according to the "About" section provided in the program, the "Lab" part of its title "…indicates that our company likes to experiment.", with intentions of presenting a variety of work chosen by the performers, when the work is ready, and a commitment to a high level of quality.  Well so far, score.  Theatre Lab has come out of the gate with a striking two-hander written by the author of No Country for Old Men, novelist and playwright, Cormac McCarthy.

As the audience files into the Gaslight Theater, the characters, simply noted as "Black" (Robert Mitchell) and "White" (Zachary Allen Farmer), are engaged in a card game onstage.  As their dialogue unravels, we learn that Black has brought White back to his run-down New York City apartment after snatching him from the path of an oncoming passenger train.  Black, an ex-con and devout Christian is cool and relaxed, affably extolling the bible to White, a disillusioned professor, agitated and anxious to leave.  What follows in this intermission-less hour and a half or so, is a bit of a ping-pong match of existential exchanges -- prodding each other for the basis of their opposing beliefs.

Zachary Allen Farmer (White) and Robert Mitchell (Black).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Actually, White doesn't seem to believe in much of anything anymore, but once the professor softens to Black's company after a bite to eat, Black seems to have a chance of dissuading White from any more suicide attempts.  He indulges White with a jailhouse story or two, makes metaphors about trains, fellow travelers on the platform, and destinations, not allowing White to leave his apartment, trying to buy some time.  Eventually, White's growing unease turns the tide with a blistering rant questioning the point of existence with elegantly put points that impress, confuse and rattle Black's stride.

Zachary Allen Farmer (White) and Robert Mitchell (Black).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The banter flows as easily as can be between Farmer and Mitchell under the carefully paced, tightly staged direction of Theatre Lab's founder, Ryan Foizey.  I've seen Farmer in a number of musicals, and it was wonderful to see him in a role like this -- arming White's spirit with a steely gaze -- broken, hard and grim.  I haven't seen Mitchell in enough, and he runs the gamut of straightforward emotions, from the charm in his jovial demeanor to his heartbreak for this stranger he meets.  Excellent portrayals by both actors.  Foizey and David Blake's set was shabby and meager, dressed with a few pieces of furniture, a heavily bolted door frame and a tiny kitchen area, with a hanging backdrop of windows that gave the space a cramped and confined feel.  Tyler Duenow's lighting design is realistic with amber dimly coming through the windows, ominously darkening near the end, and Marcy Wiegert's costume design characterizes both actors nicely.

Zachary Allen Farmer (White)
and Robert Mitchell (Black).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The cold start of the show (no welcoming speech) was refreshing, and the story you're plunged into leaves you with a thrillingly stunning aftershock.  On the night I saw it, no one moved for several moments after the curtain call.  It's like we all had to just sit there, reflect for a minute, and let it sink in a bit.  Go see it.  For real.


THE SUNSET LIMITED

Written by Cormac McCarthy
Directed by Ryan Foizey
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through August 17 | tickets: $14
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm

Cast:
Zachary Allen Farmer (White) and Robert Mitchell (Black).

Creative:
Scenic design by Ryan Foizey & David Blake; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; costume design by Marcy Wiegert.

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