The Sunset Limited at Boulevard Theatre
Created by eminent writer Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited primarily revolves around a debate over beliefs and the soul. If one doesn’t believe in anything, what is there to believe in, or even to live for? This is the question put to us by McCarthy; on the surface it is about religion versus atheism.
McCarthy sets the play in the claustrophobic and dark apartment owned by an African-American ex-convict named Black, played by Gary Beadie. Black saves the life of White, a Caucasian professor played by Jasper Britton, when he attempts to commit suicide at a train station. Black takes White back to his apartment, where he probes him as to why he would attempt such a thing. Black starts praising the Bible and all that faith has done for him. In return, the audience discovers that White, an atheist, believes that the Bible is built on lies and fear, so he sees ending his life as the only solution.
The intimate apartment is set against the urban backdrop of New York. Upon a dimly-lit stage, the cyclorama features a projector, which displays an alleyway; telephone wires and poles can be deciphered, adding to the impression of a very different lifestyle to that of the professor. Yet these two characters from polar opposite lives still find a way to collide.
The Sunset Limited is incredibly intense from the offset. McCarthy’s terse dialogue and in-depth study of complicated themes – religion, family, death and violence – is interspersed with light, quick-witted humour. Beadie and Britton succeed in carrying out convincing portrayals of the differing views. Like Shakespeare’s forlorn Hamlet, Britton sits hunched over for most of the performance, running his hands through his grey hair, with the world seemingly resting on his shoulders. Beadie, however, is upbeat and open; his posture is wide and his tone is inviting, much like the scripture that the Bible teaches: love thy brother and sister.
This seemingly naturalistic – or, more likely, intentionally surrealist – play draws parallels to Samuel Beckett. The characters’ names are symbolic and open-ended, as is the continuous conversation surrounding belief and the unbeliever; the topics go around in circles, with no real conclusion. The popular phrase “knowledge is power” encapsulates the relationship between these two unsuspecting companions. Britton is a professor, and through his knowledge, he is convinced that the Bible lacks truth and therefore sense. Throughout Beadie’s life, he has found the Bible in times of need, but is he just looking for redemption to erase his wrongdoings?
The Sunset Limited attempts to unearth the contrasting views on religious faith in a unique way. A relentless desire to get to the bottom of them is clear, but it is sadly never answered. The believers and unbelievers in the audience are left to decode the answer on their own. In order to arrive at a conclusion, they must first decide what they want and need.
Photo: Marc Brenner
The Sunset Limited is at Boulevard Theatre from 16th January until 29th February 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.