|Jack House(left) and |
Aaron Bredlau. Photo courtesy Working Class Theatre NW
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Working Class Theatre NW Does Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited
There were six people in the audience opening night for Working Class Theatre’s The Sunset Limited. Six! What is wrong with this community that they don’t flock to see this mind-boggling play? Has nobody read Cormac McCarthy? Did nobody see the HBO movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson?
Every seat in the house should be filled every night.
McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited hits raw nerves and challenges the intellect. It is a philosophical and theological debate couched in a highly dramatic confrontation between two men who are as diametrically opposite as two men can be.
The men are called Black and White, although Black (Jack House) calls White (Aaron Bredlau) “Professor.” Black is an ex-con with a violent past that found God in prison and is now an evangelical Christian dedicated to helping the junkies who live in his ghetto neighborhood. White is a college professor and an atheist who has lost all hope and only wants to die. He attempts suicide by trying to jump in front of The Sunset Limited commuter train. Black catches him, seemingly coming out of nowhere, and takes him back to his apartment and won’t let him leave until he has done everything in his power to “convert” him—not to any particular religion, but to faith that there is reason to live, reason to hope.
There is something mystical, surreal or other worldly about these characters, beginning with their names, which not only highlight racial differences but are obvious metaphors for being complementary (yin/yang) opposites as. This mystical element first appears when White says he looked before he leaped and there was no one there, yet Black caught him. Are they symbols or metaphors, or are they mystical beings—messengers of God or Satan locked in debate over whether or not life is worth living? This is typical of McCarthy. Such mystical characters appear in many of his books, often in the form of satanic avatars such as Judge Holden in Blood Meridian and Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.
There is nothing simplistic about Black’s religion. Although his arguments ring with evangelical fervor and are sparked with down-home truisms and street language, his theology is complex and intelligent.
White wants nothing to do with his religion. He just wants to die. Over and over he says he’s leaving, and over and over Black insists that he stay a little bit longer. White does not want to be drawn into a theological debate. He says, “Good god, man. Show me a religion that prepares one for death. For nothingness. There's a church I might enter. Yours prepares one only for more life. For dreams and illusions and lies.”
Working Class Theatre Northwest is a small company dedicated to producing socially conscious theater. They work on a limited budget, as evidenced by the set for this play, consisting of donated or scrounged furniture and props that probably cost nothing, all of which works perfectly because that’s the way Black lives (the entire play takes place in his tiny apartment). He has no stove, but only a hot plate; he has only two plates, two coffee cups and two glasses—the bare minimum of everything.
Tim Samland’s direction is outstanding. He and stage manager Chad Carpenter also run lights and sound (lighting design by Tom Sanders), and costumer Christina Hughes serves as house manager—further indications of what a small budget they operate with.
House and Bredlau are totally convincing. House is expansive and expressive, often funny, shouting like a revivalist preacher, and then he becomes quiet and introspective. At one point he becomes as cowed and withdrawn as White, who throughout the play seems to fold in on himself in fear and utter defeat, but then becomes a dynamo of anger and righteous indignation when pressed to explain himself.
This is acting of the highest order. These are actors who so thoroughly inhabit their characters that I don’t know how they manage to go home to their families or out into the world after a performance.
Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m. through Feb. 28 at Tacoma Youth Theater, 924 Broadway, Tacoma, and March 5-8 at 8 p.m. at The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St. in Olympia. Tickets are by suggested donation: $12 for general tickets and $10 for students, seniors, military and union members.
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