Walter Mosley's Suspenser Lift World Premiere
Lift is set in an elevator in a large building which is owned and occupied by a large corporation which encompasses varied businesses and financial institutions. Four members of the company are riding in this particular elevator. Two of themResterly, a white male partner in the firm who exudes authority, and Noni Tariq, a sassy young black woman office worker who was raised in the hoodwill exit the elevator and the play during its opening five or ten minutes. These two people are present to help set up the back stories of the two others with whom they were sharing the elevator. Despite their presence and the presence of the voices of a number of unseen characters toward the tail end of the play, Lift is essentially a two character play.
The two, Theodore "Big Time" Southmore and Tina Pardon, are youngish and rising black executives.
In short order, explosions set off by right wing terrorists wrack the building and the elevator shaft trapping Theodore and Tina in an elevator car which is fearfully hanging in the air at a dangerous angle with the support of a damaged cable. The electrical power is gone, as Tina realizes immediately when a battery operated light goes on.
You would not want me to tell you much about Theodore and Tina because the most compelling and rewarding suspense of Mosley's play is not about whether or not they survive (of course, I will not tell you that either), but it is in the racially informed, but varied, histories of Theodore and Tina, and the chasm and animosity which separates them that gives Lift its weight, power and potential.
The essential twist which gives Lift its jolting power is as believable and realistic as it is shocking and terrifying. The performances of Biko Eisen-Martin (Theodore) and MaamaYaa Boafo (Tina) give life to all of the facets with which Mosley has inhabited his characters. I did not always like them. In one instance, that is a large understatement. One's feelings about the pair are likely to be influenced by his/her sex and social history. In this area, Walter Mosley has done his job exceedingly well, and, I think, most audiences will come out with a sympathetic understanding of them.
However, there is a major problem with Lift that Mosley will have to overcome in order for the play to fulfill its potential. As it now stands, Lift is infuriatingly slack and bloated. What should be a taut, more or less, ninety minute thriller runs an attenuated two hours and fifteen minutes. Despite the brilliant writing and compelling nature of its protagonists, the seemingly plethora of short scenes make much of Lift tedious.
Crossroads Producing Artistic Director Marshall Jones III has elicited compelling performances from his cast, and employed music, sound effects, projections and lighting effects, and Andrei Onegin's extremely cleverly designed scenery to excellent effect. His only directorial misstep is to have Eisen-Martin and Boafo remain on a (low) lit stage and continue their performances throughout the intermission. A sideshow is created as audience members try to decide when or whether to repair to the lobby or use the facilities. Nobody appears to be immune to this confusion. Better if the actors slipped back on stage halfway through the intermission, and resumed their performances at that point.
The estimable Walter Mosley has come up with a suspense play of unusual substance and relevance. However, it could be to no avail unless he is willing to wrestle it down to size. Only a very rare masterpiece could successfully trap theatre audiences in a disabled elevator with two troubled characters for two and a quarter hours.
Lift continues performances (Tuesday 7 PM/ Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 8 PM through April 25th, 2014 at the Crossroads Theatre, 7 Livingston Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 08901; Box Office: 732-545-8100; on-line: www.crossroadstheatrecompany.org.
< i>Lift by Walter Mosley; directed by Marshall Jones, III