The Coast Starlight – An “If-Then” Play
The Coast Starlight is a passenger train operated by Amtrak on the West Coast of the United States between Seattle and Los Angeles via Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Thirty-five hours confined on a train can evoke curiosity and stimulate imagination about other passengers. Especially if one boards anxious, looking out, rather than inward is a natural course. This north bound trip focuses on six very different people who share a coach, each facing decisions.
Will Harrison (T.J.)
Jane (Camila Canó-Flaviá), an animation artist who sketches the others, is going to visit a boyfriend about whom she’s very unsure. Itinerant, jack of all trades, Noah (Rhys Coiro) travels to check on an ailing mother. Liz (Mia Barron) has fled a relationship whose cracks were widely exposed at an Esalen couples retreat. (A center of humanistic alternative education.) Ed (Jon Norman Schneider) hates his job and wonders whether the next meeting is worth it. Anna (Michelle Wilson) just claimed the ashes of her addict brother. All revolve around the unwitting axis of T.J. (Will Harrison) who’s deciding whether to continue in the Navy.
The six attempt to help one another, both emotionally and practically. Judgment and advice come to fore. Gestures are made. Some real connection occurs. Every bit of 90 minutes of dialogue and interaction is, however, in their minds. Lest we forget, Keith Bunin’s script periodically says “If I had told you,” “I would’ve said,” “I haven’t even spoken to you…” It’s a kind of tender memory play. If only they’d reached out, lives might’ve been different, less fraught or even less dangerous. Carpe diem seems to have taken another train.
Mia Baron (Liz) Rhys Coiro (Noah), Michelle Wilson (Anna-back), Will Harrison (T.J.), Jon Norman Schneider (Ed)
Half the cast started together at La Jolla Playhouse in 2019. All are focused. Camila Canó-Flaviá and Michelle Wilson are entirely credible. Rhys Coiro would also be, except for yelling his lines. Jon Norman Schneider is the weak link. Will Harrison’s (T.J) and Mia Barron (Liz) are standouts.
As T.J., Will Harrison’s skittish manner, habit of military stiffness, and ingrained manners are sympathetic. The young man wears a tender heart on his sleeve yet survived Southeast Asia. Every word and move read true.
Mia Barron’s Liz makes a wonderful vaudevillian entrance, dropping and rearranging things as she rails at a friend about her ex over a cell phone. Barron is so of a piece, she must’ve created a backstory for herself – not that Liz’s isn’t interesting. Like Harrison, everything we see and hear fits.
Will Harrison (T.J.), Camila Canó-Flaviá (Jane)
Director Tyne Rafeli has a light hand and good sense of space. The company sits, perches, adjusts and moves through seating with conceivably motivated variation. Each has distinctive speech pattern and attitude. Physicality is specific.
Arnulfo Maldonado’s minimal set offers cast-moved seats and crew-moved train – a revolving platform simulating motion and the passage of time. A horizontal screen behind shows streaks of light (59 Projections). Both serve.
Photos T. Charles Erickson
Opening: The Company
The Coast Starlight by Keith Bunin
Directed by Tyne Rafeli
Through April 16, 2023
Lincoln Center Theater at The Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 East 65th Street