NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Theater is not dying. And venues like New Brunswick’s Tony-Award-winning Crossroads Theater Company deserves credit for keeping it healthy and alive.
It’s an enormous risk to stage a new work, even one by a celebrated author such as Walter Mosely. Yet Crossroads consistently without fear of financial hardship or artistic ridicule moves ahead bringing another breath of fresh air to the American Stage.
The current Crossroads endeavor “Lift” is not perfect, but no play just out of the box is and growing pains are expected. Marketed as a thriller, it's really more of character-driven drama.
The actions starts at the elevator bank of the Peabody Westerly and Lowe tower in New York on an ordinary day.
Ascending to their respective floors during a tenuous encounter, are upwardly mobile strangers: Tina Pardon, played by Mason Gross’ own MaamaYaa Boafo and Theodore “Big Time” Southmore, played by Biko Eisen-Martin.
A catastrophic event occurs and the soundproof elevator car designed to interfere with cell phones goes into freefall stopping just short of injuring the occupants.
Already irritated with each other, Tina and Theodore vie for control of the situation and that irritation rises to near contempt.
As the situation becomes more precarious, they realize their dislike for one another is in the way of survival and must be put aside, a relationship of convenience develops and the pair begins to work together to free themselves from this desperate situation that could cost them their lives.
After several futile attempts at escape, the pair knows they have no control of their dilemma and the end might be soon.
Growing at ease with each other, the facades they put up to face their worlds break down a layer at a time, revealing each’s own personal, fears, pain, past sins, ethnic and racial stress and their desperate need to connect to someone that knows them for who they really are.
Realizing the only hope for survival is a rescue, the pair form an intimate and private bond that gives what they need to bear their predicament whatever its outcome.
Ms. Baofo and Mr. Eisen-Martin were excellent in what is primarily a two character play. Both roles were demanding physically and required substantial amounts of dialogue.
Lift was compelling, but the performance was hurt by a confusing intermission, where the audience was leery about getting up fearing they would interrupt the action.
Another issue was when after a large effort Tina and Theodore manage to get the elevator ceiling open, it had already been established this car interfered with cell phone signals.
But once it was unsealed freeing from that burden, they didn’t try to use their cell phones.
The suicide of another stranded elevator occupant was also superfluous to the story.
These blips don’t mean the play is not worth seeing. It was still a solid night of theater.
The rest of cast includes: Shavona Banks, also of Mason Gross as the explosive but endearing Noni, and Martin Kushner as corporate shark John Thomas Resterly, both of whom delivered solid performances.
Rather than heading to Midtown Manhattan and going through the expense of sitting through a recycled movie that’s been reworked for the stage or a jukebox musical about some retired pop group, be a part of something emerging and go see Lift.