From start to finish Lift at 59E59 Theaters until November 30th is a suspenseful and emotionally jarring ride on a stationary elevator, recalling our worst nightmares of disaster each time we step into these shifty conveyances.
An unsettling scenario turns harrowing for financial analyst Tina Pardon (a fine performance by MaameYaa Boafo) and strategic planner Theodore “Big Time” Southmore (an equally effective performance by Biko Eisen-Martin), when the intercom and emergency phone are silenced, the doors jam and the usual escape route via the ceiling hatch which works in blockbuster movies is a bust. It’s a given that 4G phones won’t work either. Confined in this box in their corporate building headquarters, the two successful African American executives are “going nowhere.”
The claustrophobic situation becomes dire when smoke seeps into the elevator cab and it is clear no one is coming to rescue them. As the play progresses this peril strips Tina and “Big Time” of their plastic personality veneers, forcing them to into a moment-to-moment parlay with fear and death. Defenses they’ve erected for the artificial world of the workplace and society collapse. They are left dangling from a weakened cable over an abyss, looking into who they are and what they are made of. It is an ironic metaphor for the reality they face and a key theme of Mosley’s many-layered work, aptly directed by Marshall Jones III.
Novelist Walter Mosely, known for his best-selling crime fiction, is an expert at crafting an environment filled with suspense and mystery. This is evident in Lift, his debut full-length drama whose intricate, surprising plot arcs keep us engaged with only a few momentary let-downs.
Additionally, in Lift Mosely’s trenchant, well constructed characterizations subtly touch upon the racial, cultural, social and economic divides in our culture without blaring the trumpet, belaboring issues or diverting a thrilling story. These elements are inherent in social relationships (between friends, males and females, workers and bosses), and Mosley mines them and our assumptions, especially in his characterizations of Tina and Theodore who have fronted and “gotten over” a good part of their lives to achieve their successful positions and social status.
However, their inner turmoil and the weakness fostered by their obfuscations spill out to create a conflict between these two. First, it is along a racial and gender divide, and then it moves deeper into the social economics of how many people, like Tina and Theodore, are forced to obtain money to “lift” them upward on the ladder of success towards “the American Dream.”
Mosley uses a clever, shifting plot device of synchronicity which adheres to thematic and symbolic threads throughout the play. For example when it appears that one danger has abated (the fire), Mosely parallels this with a removal of one level of Tina’s and Theodore’s masks. As the characters gradually become more authentic with each other, the mystery of what is happening around them is revealed and they discover that others are trapped as they are.
Mosley slams them and us with the constant threat of death. It is everpresent. Indeed, they are slowly made aware that others are dying around them. As they attempt to cope with the shocks of their worsening condition, they reveal more of themselves. The revelations open the door to their inner essence so they can see each other. Useless, the masks and images fall away. This helps them focus on working together to gain consensus and find an active solution to their horror.
Mosley’s character arcs and the actors’ fine efforts are a process of clever unfolding. The characters slowly rid themselves of the personas that have been ineffective. How they embrace the truth with each other and themselves degree by degree is subtle, fascinating and meaningful. By the end of the play Tina and Theodore have moved beyond the need for verbal “male/female” smackdowns, expressions of panic, inner rage, and manipulations using the typical MO of sexual and romantic encounters. After all of the sturm und drang, they are able to emotionally help one another and bond in a real and satisfying way. And lo and behold, here comes the rescue team.
Mosley has constructed a well-thought-out play which uses humor to expose the cultural and ethnic folkways and damaging concepts that cage people away from their inner truths and prevent them from staying in touch with life-producing values and behaviors. Thematically, Mosley has created a dynamic and thrilling work by confining us and his characters in a box. Eventually, after subjecting us/them to terrifying events, he brings us out of the experience, wiser for it and asking important questions. Of course, Mosley is threading the theme that we live in the midst of death wherever we turn. Are we ready to confront its final challenge?
Mosley has given his characters the opportunity to make things right by learning first that the behaviors they have been embracing are ultimately without merit, value, or substance. In Lift, Mosley shows how vital it is to select immutable goals consistent with supporting life, love and hope. Only by staying in touch with one’s real being can one begin to seek such values and move toward them, despite the death that might be all around.
In the supporting cast are Shavonna Banks as Noni Tariq and Martin Kushner as John Thomas Resterly. Lift, presented by Crossroads Theatre Company, will be in production at 59E59 until November 30th.