Here, let me be completely honest with you. I was not looking forward to this show. I had reviewed another play by playwright Luigi Laraia for Fringe last year and was not pleased. Laraia was clearly an earnest man, but his policy insights had overwhelmed his art, and the product was not satisfying.
But in watching Too Close, I was — well, “pleasantly surprised” is not strong enough. How about “delightedly astonished”? Too Close is pure Rod Serling, or Rod Serling salted with a bit of Samuel Beckett. And the cast delivers it in full.
Two men get onto an elevator. Anthony Keller (Daniel Owen) is a restrained, self-controlled man, an environmental engineer who routinely engineers his own environment. Dylan Salles (Dr. Richard Tanenbaum) is a history professor with a penchant for self-revelation — or, to a certain degree, self-fabrication. They set the elevator for the 39th floor.
And then the elevator lurches to a stop.
Baffled, the two men try phone calls, texting, emails. But nothing works, since they are, as Anthony points out, trapped in a steel box. They cannot pry the doors open. No one responds to the alarm.
The hours pass. The men grow more desperate. They begin to discuss their theories of the impact of society upon progress, and vice versa. They talk about themselves — Anthony’s faith in science, the medical crisis which Dylan’s daughter faces, the insubstantiality of loneliness, the insubstantiality of love. These are issues Laraia wants to address, I think, but he does so naturally, with the observations coming out of the sort of characters who would make them, particularly under these circumstances.
Written by Luigi Laraia
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I do not wish to tell you how this ends, except that there was nothing cheap or unearned about it.
Part of the play’s success must be credited to Owen, who, for much of the show, plays the straight man for the excesses of Tanenbaum’s antic character. Owen is originally from London, and has mastered both the stiff upper lip and the slow burn. Tanenbaum perfectly captures the character — blessedly rare — who showers your elevator ride with mundane conversation.
Laraia has a lot of ideas, and he gives voice to many of them in this play. Unfortunately, some of the most complex ideas come toward the end of the play, where both of the characters are deep into the trauma occasioned by several days in an elevator. They roar them out, not always clearly. If Laraia could have given a more lucid exposition of his thoughts without making the play expositional, he would have created an even better theatrical experience.
The play’s uncredited technical is spot-on, especially in capturing the lurching sounds of an elevator in crisis. (“We apologize for the delay,” a pre-recorded voice says at one point, after they had been trapped for days.) In the production I saw, the staff of the Martin Luther King library further enhanced the realism of the experience of being trapped in an elevator by turning the air conditioning off for the duration of the play.
Too Close by Luigi Laraia . Directed by Pablo Andrade . Featuring Dan Owen and Richard Tanenbaum . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.