Lift, a new play by acclaimed novelist Walter Mosley, is captivating upon setting foot into 59E59 Theaters. The exposed set, designed by Andrei Onegin, defines the specificity of the situation: the elevator car of a Manhattan skyscraper. The entire action takes place in this tiny space.
The beginning scene is familiar. Four professionals at financial firm Peabody, Resterly & Lowe navigate in and out of the elevator, exchanging small talk. When a mysterious calamity strikes the building, two passengers are trapped in an elevator car, which hangs by a thread. Brought together by fear and containment, these two strangers progress through stages of awkwardness, anger, honesty and understanding over the course of several hours. Characters who are at first guarded, masked with professionalism and propriety, sink into their full humanity before our eyes. The combination of circumstances -- entrapment, physical proximity, each one’s need for the other, the looming possibility of death -- are overwhelming. The rules have changed, and with a nod to Sartre, there is No Exit.
Tina Pardon (MaameYaa Boafo) is an ambitious Somalian-born Princeton graduate, while Theodore “Big Time” Southmore (Biko Eisen Martin) worked his way from maintenance to strategic planning during his time at Peabody, Resterly & Lowe. Lift could easily be enjoyed as a suspense play. The stakes rise with each scene as Theodore reels from an unnamed ‘medical condition’, and the pair’s once subtle romantic tension creeps to the forefront of the situation. Offstage shouts reveal the cause of calamity and the happenings in other elevator cars, and all the while Tina and Theodore try to stay alive.
Despite all this, the play is strikingly relevant in its conversation not only about race, but also about the subcultures, histories, and economic stratification between these two young professionals whose identities are affected by race differently. Lift, a title addressing the action an elevator performs, becomes a key word to understanding the play, which sparkles with Greek mythology references. Who in society is condemned to the fate of Atlas, the one singled out by Zeus to hold the heavens on his shoulders? To what extent can one person lift another’s burden or lift another up?
On whatever level the viewer is ready to appreciate Lift, it is an important play worth seeing before it leaves 59E59 Theaters on November 30th. MaameYaa Boafo and Biko Eisen Martin are young, soulful actors who boldly bring the text to life. And thanks to director Marshall Jones, III, Mosley’s story benefits from a cinematic edge.
For more information and tickets, visit https://www.59e59.org/
Through November 30 at 59E59.