nytheatre.com review by Nita Congress
April 29, 2011
Night Train completely succeeds in evoking the look, sounds, and feel—and even the smells and tastes—of a train moving swiftly in the dark, advancing inexorably toward its destination. The realism of the play’s ambience and the naturalism of its actors put the audience on the train. We sway with the omnipresent motion, we lurch at the occasional jolt. And we, along with the hapless protagonist, are lulled unsuspectingly into the comforting rhythm of the rail.
Max is a prosperous banker—a bit self-satisfied perhaps, but Max has reason to be. He has a beautiful wife awaiting him at their tastefully appointed home, a secure job and future, a pleasant life. All is well in his world.
Into his orderly existence crashes the highly disorderly Alex. He is Max’s opposite, socially as well as philosophically. Alex is all impulse and street smarts and cunning. Max is methodical, measured, and linear. Alex has taken refuge from second class by fast-talking in on Max in his solitary first-class compartment. With a conversational patter that is alternately agreeable and hostile, Alex disconcerts Max, carefully sowing seeds of doubt. Is his life what it seems to be? Is his wife happy and faithful? Is his job as forthright and upstanding as it appears? And is his future as secure as he thought? These questions are intensified with the second act appearance of Alex’s niece (“niece”?) Marta. When Alex leads her to Max’s compartment, all the seeds sown in Act 1 begin to blossom, ultimately turning out to be—what else, really, but—deadly nightshade.
The rumbling careening of the train underscores Max’s growing uncertainty and Alex and Marta’s growing power, as its journey—and the play’s—is jarringly snapped with sudden swerves, twists, and sidetracks. And the subdued lighting is similarly disturbed with a sudden inexplicable, random flash.
Once again, the New Jersey Rep design team—Jessica Parks, Jill Nagle, Patricia E. Doherty, and Merek Royce Press—brilliantly realize (respectively) sets, lighting, costumes, and sounds that literally make the evening. And director SuzAnne Barabas has carefully instilled the rhythm of the train into every action. Actors Philip Lynch, Michael Irvin Pollard, and Maria Silverman, as Max, Alex, and Marta, seemingly unconsciously rock and weave all night.
The acting, particularly Silverman’s—and notably, when, as the vaguely Central European–accented Marta struggles to process Max’s words; you can almost see the Broca’s area of her brain functioning beneath her brow as she parses and puzzles—lives up to the promise of the design.
Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, the vehicle does not. John Biguenet’s play likely would have made an excellent short story; the plot seems a little thin in a two-act dramatic piece. Nonetheless, the excellence of the acting, direction, and production makes for much for an audience to savor—well worth spending the rest of the evening with a slight sway.