Savage In Limbo
SAVAGE IN LIMBO by John Patrick Shanley (Bob Kills Theatre). At the Downstage Theatre (798 Danforth). Runs to November 7, nightly at 8 pm. $20. savageintoronto.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Spend an hour with the Bronx bar regulars in Savage In Limbo and you’ll experience the human comedy in its many forms.
John Patrick Shanley’s one-act play, written before better known works like Moonstruck and Doubt: A Parable, deals with how to connect to others without relinquishing one’s individuality, no matter how outrageous it might be.
Drinking in Murk’s (Tim Walker) bar on a slow Monday night are his troubled girlfriend, April (Caitlin Driscoll), and two other women, Denise Savage (Diana Bentley) and Linda (Melissa D’Agostino). Tony (Nick Abraham), who was once involved with Linda, is a later visitor who finds himself in the middle of a tug of war between Denise and his ex.
Shanley’s writing is filled with sharp-edged dialogue as funny as it is revelatory about these five people — all 32 years old — feeling trapped in their lives and wanting change. They’ve known each other since their days together in Catholic school. They might not know how to reach out to one another, but they’re all poetically eloquent in expressing, often in a rush of words, their needs and fears. Words and ideas bubble out of them like from a fountain.
Sarah Kitz’s first-class production gives each of the five a chance to shine in the confines of the Downstage Theatre. Bentley’s Denise, the virgin who doesn’t want to be alone, and D’Agostino’s Linda (a far cry from her well-known, spitfire Lupe character), who’s known too many lovers and now is rejected by Tony because he wants to date ugly women, are focused and fierce. Some of the play’s best episodes are the comic but intense confrontations between the pair, especially when they fight over Tony.
Walker and Driscoll provide an intentionally unsettling and surreal tone at the start: he, ghostly and staring wide-eyed at the audience, bangs drinks down on the bar in a kind of shell-game roulette, while she catatonically reacts to what he’s doing. (The riveting choreography is by Monica Dottor.)
Is he a kind of puppet-master and she his prescient doll, one who later breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience? Though in the early scenes they’re chorus-like observers of the action, they step in partway through the play to tell their own stories and take part in some weird holiday game-playing.
Tony’s as lost as the others and Abraham gives us a sense of his yearning, but in Shanley’s otherwise strong writing there’s an amorphous quality to the man’s needs compared to that of the others.
Ultimately Shanley’s script looks at the idea of change. Without it, he suggests, we can’t help but be caught in a limbo of our own making.