The Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited, 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; $17. Actor's Workshop at Three Penny Theatre, 1721 25th Street; (916) 501-6104; Through November 24.
Rated 5.0

Eason Donner’s current directing gig might well be his easiest: guiding local acting legends (and Elly lifetime achievement award winners) Ed Claudio and James Wheatley in Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited.

It’s a couple of old dudes sittin’ around talkin’.

The two veteran actors and their young director turn McCarthy’s verbose “drama in novel form” into a riveting philosophical discussion of faith vs. intellect. The characters are called White (Claudio) and Black (Wheatley), for their respective skin colors, and offstage, just before the play begins, Black has saved White from throwing himself in front of a train.

In Black’s sparse apartment, the suicidal, atheistic college professor and the ex-con-turned-preacher who rescued him engage in a battle of wits over their existential dilemma. That neither has all the answers or convincingly wins the argument doesn’t detract from the power of their encounter. Edgy and agitated, Claudio powerfully portrays a smart man at the end of his rope, convinced of the futility of life and clinging to only one hope: that when it’s over, it is truly over. Wheatley is captivating from the moment he opens his mouth. Alternately at ease and coiled up, he gives a remarkably textured performance.

They are a rare pair and this—a reprise from last year’s successful run—is a magnificent show.