The Sunset Limited
Voices are almost never raised, and there are no stagey fisticuffs between the two characters (identified only as "White" and "Black"), but the two actors in question create such indelible impressions that I had a sudden terror, 70 minutes in, that some cell phone might be about to go off somewhere in the darkened theater, to break the spell.
Thankfully, it never happened. And actors Zachary Allen Farmer and Robert Alan Mitchell bring us to a wringing, gasping, "saved from drowning" moment at the end that I'm still savoring. I guess my soul was holding its breath too long, before the final blackout.
Ryan Foizey produces and directs in the inaugural production of Theatre Lab, and he's also had some excellent help along the way. I am inclined to say Mr. Foizey must be an "actor's director," based on the extremely fine detail in the two performances on stage, which never wear thin, and the way the actors seem so effortless in their physical fluidity, overcoming any sign of theatrical necessity on the director's part (by that, I mean that when the script calls for someone to go to the door, or rearrange the furniture, it seems absolutely the perfect time for it, and as natural as can be).
Mr. Farmer as White is generally hunkered down and embarrassed, after trying to jump in front of an oncoming trainbut also amazingly eloquent about the great issues of life; and Mr. Mitchell as Black is sublimely funny, kind and equally insightful as the house painter who's come to the rescue. I admit, there were a few times my mind wandered during their debates over hope and despair, but I blame myself, and an upset stomach, for the occasional drifting-away from those big questions of faith and fact. Stylistically, I never wanted it to end. The soul of the play really does seem eternal.
Somehow, when Mr. Mitchell is pouring coffee for his reluctant guest, he becomes larger than lifemaybe it's something about being "up-center" and back behind a big kitchen counter, like St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. His is just a purely delightful performancewhile in Mr. Farmer we get a desperate sense that "white privilege" can really be a horrible, empty trap, at least for anyone who's not an absolute racist.
It all sounds so grim, but you couldn't ask for a better pair of showmen in these roles. Mr. Farmer is, admittedly, playing the 'stoic' again, sometimes requiring a microscope to pick up all the detail he's giving us, and Mr. Mitchell is out-Morgan-Freemaning even Morgan Freeman. But after those 90 minutes have raced by, smooth as silk, and when it's really time to move on, it feels like we're finally hearing the anguished passion of God himself: pleading for Man to take just one more chance, in spite of everything. As He probably does, every single day.
Through August 17, 2013, at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle, in the Central West End. For more information visit their Facebook page at TheatreLabSTL