When the Actor's Workshop of Sacramento first presented Cormac McCarthy's "The Sunset Limited" in the fall of 2012, the two-hander generated word-of-mouth buzz, and earned stars Ed Claudio and James Wheatley Elly Award nominations.
Unfortunately, said buzz came too late to satiate the desire of the theatergoing public, and many were left kicking themselves for missing one of the season's best-performed productions.
Thankfully, Sacramento-area audiences are being given another opportunity to catch Claudio and Wheatley demonstrate why they're considered the cream of the capital's crop of local actors/artistic directors as the AWS presents a reprise of "The Sunset Limited" Oct. 25 through Nov. 24, 2013.
Claudio, founder and artistic director of AWS, says there were actually a host of personal and professional reasons for putting "The Sunset Limited" back on the rails.
"I relished the opportunity to work with James again," said Claudio. "But the chief reason I'm reviving it is because it provides two very challenging roles and the content is so profound and moving. Cormac McCarthy is the most provocative writer in the country, and I've spent my producing career presenting provocative and challenging plays. Besides, the word got out too late last year and by the time people started to request tickets we were already closing."
For the uninitiated, cormacmccarthy.com ("The Official Web Site of the Cormac McCarthy Society") provides a summary of the show: "The historical Sunset Limited was a transcontinental train that crossed the American South from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Metaphorically, to ride the Sunset Limited is to take the mythic train west, to go to the Western wall, to sail over the edge of the world. The literal train in McCarthy’s 'The Sunset Limited' is a New York subway, but the destination of the suicidal professor White is the solitude of death, an escape from the hell of other people, from the human history of war and genocide, and from his own intractable alienation.
"This 'novel in dramatic form' is comprised of dialogue with stage directions, and indeed, it was first made public on the stage, by Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and later in New York City and Galway, Ireland. Its narrative arc depends on the dynamic interchange between two characters, Black and White (played here by Wheatley and Claudio, respectively), whose names suggest their allegorical function as starkly contrasting metaphysical orientations."
"I could not imagine turning down a play like this," said Wheatley. "I am fascinated by people with open minds and hearts who exercise their abilities to grasp what is going on around and beyond them, and who articulate their understandings in word and deed. A college professor and an ex-convict laborer locked in a philosophical tug-of-war is an intriguing project."
"We have here two astute men who took advantage of life's offerings in quite different ways, (and who) crossed paths for a moment on their way, seeking to fulfill their respective beliefs," continued Wheatley. "In their normal settings there may be something that sets them apart from others, but still they are ordinary in many ways. However, in this play their extraordinary passions are on fire. The synthesis of their understandings and missions battle for dominance."
In the AWS's first staging of "The Sunset Limited," Mark Heckman directed. The current incarnation, however, is being helmed by Eason Donner, whose passion for the project bubbles forth like a champagne fountain.
"I was drawn to this project for two reasons," said Donner, "the first – and most obvious – is the chance to work with two really great veteran actors and get to push them around and challenge them. "Doing a two-hander like this is really cool – it's just the three of us hanging out, poring over this material and wringing it for all it is worth.
"Ed and James are brilliant and never cease to surprise and astonish. The second reason I wanted to direct this show is the set of problems it creates as a piece of theater. Cormac McCarthy is a truly gifted, if not deranged, author and I'm a huge fan of his novels. This play, as fascinating as it is on the page, is essentially an hour-and-one-half conversation between two people in a single location. And on top of that, nothing really happens. They talk. There are power shifts, for sure, but they are subtle. The challenge for a director in any show is to find the story and frame it up. Most plays follow the same rough structure, adhering to the same principles and one needs to identify the playwright's tale and make sure the actors are acting that story.
"My goal is to stage something that works on intellectual, emotional and physical levels. I want a show that simultaneously appeals to people interested in the ideas that McCarthy tackles in this piece, those stimulated by avant garde theater, and those simply wishing to be entertained and take a theatrical journey."
JUST THE FACTS
WHAT: The Actor's Workshop of Sacramento production of Cormac McCarthy's "The Sunset Limited"
WHEN: Oct. 25 through Nov. 24, 2013 (8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; Sundays at 2 p.m. (Oct. 27, Nov. 3, Nov. 10) and 7 p.m. (Nov. 17 and Nov. 24)
WHERE: Three Penny Theatre, 1723 25th St., Sacramento (at R Street)
WHO: Featuring Ed Claudio and James Wheatley; directed by Eason Donner
TICKETS: Go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/501981, or call (916) 583-4880