Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Suspended won the 2010 ITI-UNESCO international playwriting competition (under the original title Diamond Stars), so it's almost hard to believe Maya Arad Yasur's 75-minute play has never been produced anywhere before. In spite of its relative brevity, it reveals a broad emotional landscape. Slowly, two men from an unspecified African nation home-in on the events surrounding a rebel invasion of their shared childhood village, and the tension becomes unexpectedly intense as they bounce against skyscrapers of steel and glass.
Reginald Pierre is Isaac, who has hired Benjamin (Phillip C. Dixon) to spend the long days scrubbing and squeegee-ing, with long ropes as the only thing holding them up, separated from Westerners in busy offices by soundproofed glass. Things start out on a friendly, comical notethey are a Laurel and Hardy pair until talk turns to their youthful relationship back in Africa, and how each man escaped extremely violent unrest.
The tension is also heightened by rising physical conflict (thanks to fight choreography by Erik Kuhn) and accented by the wail of strange distorted winds, and cold mirrored twilights, further made nightmarish by Cristie Johnston's dizzying set: massive skyscrapers thrusting up at strange angles behind the men. Benjamin's cruel run-in with a masked rebel while a teenager has led him to this new land, and his questions (and his own inability to manage the ropes) bind him more and more to Isaac, in this precarious situation.
Without giving too much away in this latest outstanding Upstream Theater production, a dramatic "truth and reconciliation" investigation gets underway, even while the victim and perpetrator are in danger of being cut loose, hundreds of feet above concrete and asphalt. And the only people who could help either of them barely notice, from the other side of the glass, ensconced in their own first-world problems.
Mr. Pierre is excellent, adopting the emphatic moralizing tone of men from faraway lands, his face a mask of wounded nobility. Mr. Dixon is plaintive and playful as he tries to learn the death-defying skills of the job, until it becomes clear that this is more than a chance encounter. Suspicions rise, and hearts are broken all over again. And though it takes some tense minutes to unravel the single main event that led them to escape their homeland, the truth turns out to be one of those uniquely poetic Upstream Theater-type resolutions to one more of the unbearable events that dogs humanity.
Through October 23, 2016, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 South Grand, between the Fox Theatre and Saint Louis University. Free parking is usually available at seven pm on nearby Lindell Blvd., but not long after seven. For more information visit www.upstreamtheater.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association