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A CurtainUp Review
Lift was written by Walter Mosley ( Devil in a Blue Dress, ), best known for crime dramas featuring African-American private eye Easy Rawlins. The main characters are two young rising executives, Theodore "Big Time" Southmore (Biko Eisen-Martin) and Somalian-born Tina Pardon (Maama Yaa Boafe).
Also making brief but meaningful appearances in the elevator are Tina's street-wise best friend, Noni Tariq (Shavonna Banks) and John Thomas Resterly (Martin Kushner), President and CEO of Peabody, Resterly and Lowe. Tina turns quickly away so Resterly cannot see her but Theodore greets the big boss who authoritatively expresses his racial and anti-Semitic views. "Blacks, browns too, are indispensable. There's always a lower cast, a group of people that are our Atlas, holding the world on their shoulders while the rest of us, those with any sense anyway climb up their backs and into the promised land."
After Resterly and Noni exit, the elevator starts again, then abruptly shakes to a stop, precariously hanging by a compromised cable. Electricity is out until the generator kicks in, but cell phones get no signal and they hear shouts outside about a terrorist attack. Tina and Theodore try to calm their fears as the car intermittently shudders.
Personal stories unfold with emotion, fears and secrets shared as they wait for help over the next hours. Although both are hard-working African-American achievers, their backgrounds were different and they hold opposing and often contemptuous views. Trapped here, however, they are forced to relinquish control and coexist. Struggling to stay positive, personal layers unravel and eventually they find ways to help each.
The issues of race and class anchor the play which is more a character study than a thriller. Mosley's depictions of Theodore and Tina are distinctively nuanced with aspects that continue to twist the plot in new directions. I'll refrain from more details except to say that both Tina and Theodore have shocking baggage dramatically presented.
Maama Yaa Boafe lends Tina dignity with intelligence, strength and authority. Biko Eisen-Martin's Theodore initially appears aloof, anxious and later desperate, but the reason for his behavior is understandable. With a play that demands athletic physical ability and artistic sensitivity to what both have endured and continue to experience, the characters elicit viewer understanding rather than affection.
The play occasionally sags with segments of tedium. Fortunately, the intermission with which it began its run has been eliminated and it now runs straight through for one hour and 40 minutes. The intermission probably broke the tension.
Director Marshall Jones III, is Artistic Director of the Crossroads Theatre Company, producers of the play. He steers the characters solidly and adds startling sound effects of the jolting elevator, bells and explosions by Toussaint Hunt and lighting and projections by Rocco Disanti. A realistic elevator design by Andrei Onegin is a box hovering above the stage but revealing the empty elevator shaft up to the rafters.
The issue of race, class and gender is meaty substance. Walter Mosley, who has earned an O. Henry Award and a PEN America Lifetime Achievement Award, has crafted another relevant and contemporary drama where most of the pieces fit neatly together with well-defined characters.