Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Sunset Limited (The SOB Review) - Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, Chicago, IL

The Sunset Limited (The SOB Review) - Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, Chicago, IL

*** (out of ****)

In Cormac McCarthy's stark and ironic The Sunset Limited, Black and White converge in more ways than one. They not only represent the skin colors and names of two men who meet, but in a twist, it also signifies the relative place each of their souls inhabits. This play requires skilled acting; fortunately, its actors are sharp and precise.

Austin Pendleton, Broadway's original Motel in the 1966 production of Fiddler on the Roof with Zero Mostel, has always struck me as a more accessible version of Woody Allen by often playing neurotic characters possessing a great deal of heart. In The Sunset Limited it takes his character White -- an intellectual professor who believes he knows too much to be happy -- a while to get beyond initial shyness to open up to his "savior" Black, played with extraordinary heft by Freeman Coffey. All he truly wants to do is escape what he perceives as Black's sad existence to what he hopes is the permanent black space of nothingness. Yet once he opens up, we see a tinge of warmth and the humanity that still resides within him. Black, on the other hand, is all about atonement for his past and sets out to save White's life, if not his soul. Not far behind his confident smile and faith is heartbreak for past deeds.

One of the more arrogant lines White delivers is "The more you know, the less likely you are to be happy." Yet there's no denying the crackling intellect of Black, who not only had served time in prison for murder but had also nearly died there in a vicious scrape with another inmate. Beyond all odds, he found hope and faith when he was at his lowest point, which clearly seemed to be much worse than any event that could ever have befallen White (White steadfastly refused to divulge the "worst" thing that had ever happened to him, just as Black refused to reveal the "worst" thing he had ever done). To imply that he knew more and thus was unhappier than Black was a condescending jolt to the man who would be his friend.

This play set in real time examines the dramatically extreme divergent paths of hope and despair that two seemingly lost souls can take. The Sunset Limited brilliantly lets us see how close those two paths can sometimes come.

In the interest of full disclosure, I proudly serve on Steppenwolf's Auxiliary Council Board of Governors.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.


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