Monday, October 27, 2008

Night Train - October 27, 2008

I have become so inured to the mediocrity that is the majority of theater on Broadway, Off-Broadway and even that last bastion of 'innovation' Off-Off-Broadway that I often go barely hoping for better, simply expecting more and more of the same. Thankfully, every now and again, something happens that renews my faith that live theater is not simply a rehash of movies, a retelling of the same stories in the same ways or a soulless empty vehicle intended to sell tickets. Sometimes real gems are to be found and that is a very, very heartening thing to discover.

Mel Nieves's Night Train is one such gem. Normally I do not review staged readings, primarily because they are not meant to be reviewed. Its not really fair. They are opportunities for writers, directors and actors to put a new piece on its feet and see how it works with an audience. Often there are rough spots that are, of course, to be expected. But sometimes a piece is so strong that you forget the actors are holding scripts, you forget that the setting is nothing more than a few chairs arranged to invoke a taxi and you forget that you are watching a play because you are so completely captivated by what you are seeing and hearing. And that is precisely how I felt about the reading of Night Train that I saw tonight, presented as part of the LAByrinth Theater Company's Barn Series (which runs through November 19 at the Public Theater).

A scant 40 minutes, two amazingly natural actors (Elizabeth Canavan and Ed Vassallo), subtle, unselfconscious direction by Felix Solis, a bit of music and a refreshingly human script. There is not an extraneous word, nor a single dead spot, in this utterly engaging story of two absolute strangers sharing their hearts in a cab on a rainy night in New York City.

Free of any awkwardness, the wit was fresh, spontaneous and unforced. It flowed the way the very best of conversations do, those lightening in a bottle conversations you wish you could recapture but never can. Yet Nieves seems to have done it with a particular ease. Perhaps because his characters are so real, their words can't help but ring true. We laugh because we know these two people, because, in fact, we are these two people. And their moments of self-exposure are enough to make us cry.

A second performance of this reading will be given on Monday, November 3 - it's free! - and I encourage you to see for yourself that the theater is alive with fresh voices, fresh perspectives and a writer who does what our best playwrights have always done since the very beginning: show us ourselves.

Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
New York, NY