Born and raised in The Bronx, a notorious borough of New York City, John Patrick Shanley is an award – winning, veteran playwright, screenwriter, and director.

His long and varied list of plays include ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea’ (1983), ‘Four Dogs and a Bone’ (1993), “Storefront Church’ (2012) and most notably, ‘Doubt: A Parable’ (2004). For the screen, Shanley wrote ‘The January Man’ (1989), ‘Joe Versus The Volcano’ (1990), and ‘Alive’ (1993), as well as winning an Oscar in 1987 for ‘Moonstruck’.

Making its debut thirty years ago in 1985, ‘Savage in Limbo’ feels fresh, vibrant and relevant as the day it was written. Shanley’s vision is by turns coarse, socially unfiltered, poignant, hilarious and tragic.

Set in a working class watering hole, the play is essentially about a group of struggling and frustrated, guarded yet bright, tough – talking individuals. Having attended the same high school years earlier, the ensemble reunites and reconnects, each with the intent of making a better future.

They should be in the prime of their lives. But instead, all are stuck fast. Like the trio from Jean Paul Sartre’s ‘No Exit’, over the course of ‘Savage In Limbo’, the characters collectively help and hinder one another. For here too, Hell is indeed other people.

Small details such as the Denise’s obsessive card – playing, Murk’s resigned lethargy, Tony’s animal machismo, or Linda and April’s extended drinking time – outs, lock these characters to their fates.

There are also key references to Shanley’s own Catholic upbringing throughout ‘Savage In Limbo’.

For example, as a high school teen, April aspired to be a nun helping India’s poor. The main protagonist, Denise, is still a virgin. Even the name of the bar, ‘Scales’, has oblique religious undertones.

Most significantly, all five are thirty – two years old, their Christ year.

Think Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting For Godot’ meets the reality television series, ‘Jersey Shore’. Or Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ meets ‘Big Brother’. Though Shanley’s characters are broadly drawn, he still has tremendous respect and affection for this rough and tumble quintet.

My astute plus one noted though the play has no discernable plot, that nevertheless, these complex yet accessible characters take you everywhere. Thanks to crackling dialogue and the rapid fire pace, there is never a dull moment. In fact, the hour – long running time feels more like ten roller coaster minutes, jam – packed.

The method – trained ensemble, ride every wave and feel every nuance. Samantha Mesh (Denise), Anthony Scundi (Tony), Sarah Nicolazzo (Linda), Adrea McCannon (April), and Kostas Ilias (Murk) ramp up the intensity to eleven and keep it there. Together, with their characters’ hopes and aspirations stripped bare, each performer appears fully committed to the journey and to the text.

Thanks to smart production design by Gabriella Rose-Carter (who also directed) and Samantha Mesh, the staging means we are both viewers and voyeurs, watching Shanley’s gripping parable unfold at close range in spontaneous real time.

Lighting Design & Stage Management by Rebecca Fortuna, combined with Set Construction by Gary Wall, Tony Hommelhoff, and Shannon O’Brien, helps to keep the gritty action realistic and the involving story moving.

This is intelligent theatre in the round, with bar tables and chairs set up in place of traditional block seating. Q44’s intimate space further allows audience members to be at one with the overall experience.

Q44 Theatre’s ‘Savage In Limbo’ is actors’ acting, and a ballsy, brilliant hell of a ride. Don’t miss it.

 

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