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Monday, 12 August 2013 00:40

Thoughtful production of ‘The Sunset Limited’ has the Theatre Lab on the right track

Written by Tina Farmer
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The Details

  • Director: Ryan Foizey
  • Dates: August 9 - 17, 2013

The actor-focused Theatre Lab makes a bold statement with its inaugural production, "The Sunset Limited," directed by Ryan Foizey. Focused on character and intellect, the show benefits from strong performances by Robert Alan Mitchell as Black and Zachary Allen Farmer as White.

Each actor's big moments fit the little quirks and nuances of his character, adding depth that helps to gain our sympathy. Mitchell's Black has a driving energy and passion, he seems to need to try to save the world in order to make his world meaningful. Farmer's White is resigned and exhausted, both intellectually and emotionally, but that sense of inertia is countered by nervous OCD behaviors and an approach to life that's grounded in academia.

Foizey adds needed action and movement, but he doesn't force events, providing a context that allows the actors to flesh out what could have been one-dimensional characters. Directing a play that's built around a single conversation between two strangers, presents logistic as well as theatrical challenges. Foizey's direction demonstrates an ability to keep the show interesting within the narrow story arc; there's just enough room on the set and the actors are given just enough freedom to establish credibility, even though the dialogue at times feels stretched thin.

The script by Cormac McCarthy mixes a well-structured cross examination of the atheist and the Christian with humor and modern sensibilities, and works hard to ensure the show doesn't provide a neat and tidy ending for anyone. The show, in fact, seems designed specifically to be thought provoking, although I found some of the dialogue to drag the pacing at times, becoming almost too much for the actors to convincingly carry. And, though the ending is intentionally gray, it is Black who is most affected, who goes through the emotional change in this production.

Mitchell's Black is the driving force in the show, but, rather than working to push the show somewhere, he concentrates on keeping White just where he is. The twist is interesting, and affords Mitchell the opportunity to use gesture and expression to humorous effect. Mitchell fills his character with conviction, curiosity and a touch of pride, personifying a hardened criminal with religious fervor and more than a hint of southern gentleman. He does not see the world through rose-colored glasses, but he does make a choice to try to influence others and to believe and preach salvation.

Black has a warmth to his character which is well balanced by Farmer's prickly and rather fastidious White. White doesn't seem to know whether he wants others to like him or not, but he is not hesitant in letting Black know that he didn't appreciate Black's interference. Farmer elicits our sympathy because he is both interesting and pitiful. His White brings to life common perceptions of the bookish, out-of-touch professor who has studied so hard he's somehow lost touched with humanity or hope. It's not that White is sad, so to speak, it's simply that he's resolute. Farmer plays White with a sigh and an eye roll, expressing his longing and frustration in nearly hidden gestures.

Each character is thoughtful, and firm in his individual beliefs, further pushing the gray areas the script explores. And, though very different, each of the characters has likeable qualities, neither is the villain, nor the hero. This juxtaposition creates the necessary tension, which is purposefully countered by the unanswered questions that remain.

The show was well written, well acted and well directed. The stage and design worked well for the production and I noticed only minor mistakes, and none that distracted from the performance, but the show felt like something I'd already seen before. I only wish I had enjoyed it more, that I had been challenged or left with new questions to ponder. I am appreciative that the show was produced, but I feel I would have been more enthusiastic had the script pushed the conversation further.

From a sign on the door to the theater, I learned this is the inaugural Theatre Lab production, but I did not find information regarding a next production. "The Sunset Limited" easily held my interest, with a provocative theme and strong performances, and the notes included in the program indicate that the lab is a vehicle for actors to perform what they want. I'm interested to see what comes next.

"The Sunset Limited" runs through August 17th at the Gaslight Theatre. For more information on the company or how to get tickets for this production, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheatreLabSTL or call (314) 599-3309.

Additional Info

  • Director: Ryan Foizey
  • Dates: August 9 - 17, 2013

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