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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Night Train

Well, you probably noticed this car is nearly deserted. Just you and me and that old couple in the compartment down at the other end. It's always the same. There's never anybody in first class at night. Like I said before, if you can afford the best, then why not wait until morning? And let me tell you, the thieves knowhow empty these cars are at night. What if you were to fall asleep and the conductor — or whoever, I don't mean to spread rumors — were to slip a little gas in here. — Max
Night Train
Maria Silverman making her New Jersey Repertory Company debut in Night Train
(Photo: Suzanne Barabas)
The stage at the New Jersey Repertory Company is set for an old fashioned, enjoyably hokey mystery melodrama. It is most likely the present. The scene is an exceptionally roomy 1st class sleeping compartment on a train moving through the night to some unknown destination presumably somewhere in Eastern Europe. The elegance of first class is designated by the plush red velvet daybeds. The effect of the train in motion is created by the passing lights and shadows that flash by from the countryside (thanks to Jill Nagle's expert lighting effects). Nicely atmospheric, this is a nifty frame for the unsettlingly eerie doings that are about to happen on this Night Train a new play by John Biguenet.

Alex (Michael Irvin Pollard), a well-dressed American business man isn't destined to be the compartment's sole occupant for very long. Max (Philip Lynch) a bearded, poorly attired man, presumably a native of the region, intrudes. The eyes of this admittedly second class passenger have a look of desperation as he suddenly proceeds to prompt and provoke responses from the unassuming and somewhat bewildered Alex. We can sense that his full-steam-ahead rather digressive chatter seems to be a ploy to put Alex off guard. Are they meant to be a devious conduit to entrapment? It is apparent to us, if not to Alex, that Max is a master at drawing the unsuspecting into a carefully woven web of subterfuge from which there may be no escape.

We can, of course, detect from the outset that there is some sinister plot afoot. But what can it be? And what is Alex to do when Max brings Marta (Maria Silverman), an unhappy woman with a thick Polish (?) accent to his compartment. Left alone with Alex, Marta wastes no time, however, complicating matters by entreating, beguiling and seducing him. Are we surprised when Max returns to find Marta and Alex in . . . well, you know where this is going under SuzAnne Barabas's commendably abetting directing.

This is exactly the kind of we-are-one-step-ahead-of-you-everybody's-in-on-it plot (except the antagonist) that fueled many B-movies during the 1930s and 1940s. Produced to accompany the main feature, those films were more often than not little more than an hour in length, modestly creepy and devilishly diverting. To be sure, it was a class of films that pre-dated and later defined the beginning of the Film Noir.

The Night Train as written in dramatic form by Biguenet isn't the first or will it be the last to pay homage to that genre that also includes such vintage radio dramas as I Love a Mystery and Suspense. I was very conscious of Biguenet's deliberately synthetic writing style, its vivid implausibility being its main characteristic and also it main source of amusement.

Lynch is standout as the slippery-tongued provocateur/perpetrator/enabler/survivor who has figured out every angle to make his life better for himself and his family in a country where life is undoubtedly hell. Silverman, who made her Broadway debut in Michael Mayer's revival of A View from the Bridge and now is making her N.J. Rep. debut, is terrific as Marta, an alluring conspirator without a conscience. Pollard's fine performance as the incomprehensibly susceptible Alex makes us suspect that what is happening to him may well be a dream.

Biguenet, best known as an award-winning (O'Henry Award) author of short stories, has devised a nightmarish diversion that may not be as spine-chilling a mystery as we might prefer, but he has afforded us the opportunity to think about locking our compartments at night, especially when traveling on a night train.

Night Train
By John Biguenet
Directed by Suzanne Barabas

Cast: Philip Lynch (Max), Michael Irvin Pollard (Alex), Maria Silverman (Marta)
Scenic Design: Jessica Parks
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
Sound Design: Merek Royce Press
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including intermission
New Jersey Repertory Company
179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ
(732) 229 -3166
Tickets ($40.00
Performances: Thursdays, Fridays at 8 PM; Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM; Sundays at 2 PM.
Opened 04/30/11
Closes 05/29/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 04/30/11
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