TheatreUNCA opens two shows in repertoire in November, when they'll take audiences Into the Woods with Sondheim's fairytale-twisting musical, and into the darkness with Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited, a show exploring life, literature, existentialism and hope.
"The Sunset Limited is two people sitting at a table, talking about the most important, high-stakes conversation that you could have," explained Scott Walters, the show's director and professor of drama at UNC Asheville.
The show seems simple from the outset--the set is minimal and doesn't change throughout the show; there's little action beyond the conversation between the two characters; even the characters have no names, other than "Black" and "White."
"There's not an enormous amount of plot as much as there is the twists and turns of trying to come to some sort of agreement, and to convince somebody that life is worth living," Walters said.
Before the play begins, Black, played by UNC Asheville senior Bjorn Goller-Hagood, has rescued the suicidal White, played by sophomore Robert Simmons, from throwing himself in front of a train. The audience finds Black and White in Black's humble kitchen, where he has brought White to try and talk him out of suicide.
"White's character is of high education, very well educated, he's a literature professor," said Goller-Hagood. "My job as my character is to keep him impressed with my thoughts, although I can't deliver them as eloquently as he might. I'm still having thoughts that are logical in some way, and that are questioning his beliefs, digging at his beliefs, really punching holes in the framework of what he calls himself."
The unique style of the play presented new challenges to the actors and director. "I had to almost totally change the way I normally direct the show," said Walters, who would typically block out the actor's movements in the play very early in the rehearsal process. But with so little movement, and so much focus on the dialogue, he had to flip his process. "I just reversed everything," he said.
"There's nothing else to tell the story but the dialogue," Goller-Hagood said. "It's 100 percent what keeps people interested. It's 100 percent of where the story is. It's not movement, it's not shape, it's not color, it's not action. It is dialogue. It is the palpable tension between two people sitting in a room across from each other, on the edge of being blown way out, split away from each other at any second, at any moment, just riding that thin line. I think it's a hard thing to do."
"I think is definitely one of the hardest shows I've ever done," Simmons said. "For my character, there's an emotional state that he has to be in as soon as lights up. And having to keep that inner tension and that inner turmoil throughout the show is mentally exhausting.
"Cormac McCarthy, his brain is brilliant and complex," Simmons continued. "And so it's been a challenge to really connect to the ideas that my character believes in."
Still, Walters said he doesn't expect the show to be all darkness. "There's an awful lot of humanity there," he said.
"No matter how much these two characters don't relate in their daily lives, there's some basic human tendencies to want to connect with others, and I would say one of [our characters] believes wholly in that, and is trying to remind the other of that," Goller-Hagood said. "It's a basic human instinct."
In the spring season TheatreUNCA will lead us back out of the darkness when they stage Welcome Home Jenny Sutter, a play about a wounded Iraqi war veteran coming back into her community, and This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, a play about three sisters who are abandoned in the woods.
"They traverse the globe having experiences and then all come back together again in the woods and join, and lead a contented life at that point," said Walters. "So, we don't quite get all the way out of the woods, we find that the woods is an ok place to be; it's a place to be content, and not a place to be feared."
The Sunset Limited opens Thursday, Nov. 9, with evening performances Nov. 9-11 with curtain at 7:30 p.m., and one matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12.
Graphic design by David Robbins '18