Lives hang in the balance in Upstream’s ‘Suspended’

Phillip Dixon, of East St. Louis, and Reginald Pierre, of St.Louis, in "Suspended."
Phillip Dixon, of East St. Louis, and Reginald Pierre, of St.Louis, in "Suspended."

Two men who have escaped a conflict-ravaged Third World country reunite as window washers in "Suspended," an absorbing character study with more layers than even the premise implies.

Upstream's 12th season opener is a world premiere of Maya Arad Yasur's one-act drama, memorable for its deft depiction of two lives that hang in the balance.

The production team has created a fascinating bird's-eye view of a work situation. Scenic designer Christie Johnson's artful set of skyscrapers, work apparatus and a sunny blue sky is interesting for its sharp angles and viewpoint.

Lighting designer Tony Anselmo has astutely shaded the various times of day, while sound designer Dan Strickland added much modulating the din of a bustling metropolis.

This portrait of two men moving forward in a western city really comes alive, however, through the depth the dynamic duo of Reginald Pierre and Phillip Dixon bring out in their disparate characters.

Pierre, gifted with a rich baritone voice, has imbued Isaac with a distinct African accent that doesn't waver. As the boss, he speaks with authority and firmness to his new employee.

Dixon is at first more deferential in his characterization of Benjamin, a still-shook-up refugee, happy to have a job.

But Benny knows Isaac from their homeland. As their past connection is disclosed, we're riveted by the twosome, who strongly control the level of emotions they share.

Yasur has woven a taut, thought-provoking story. We wonder how much do we really know about a person, his motivations, and ask ourselves what would we do under similar circumstances as the characters reveal consequences to actions.

The men carry much baggage as they desperately want new beginnings. Their discourse becomes harrowing on their slim platforms held up by wiring that shifts high above the ground, enhanced by Claudia Horn's props.

The actors' physicality is remarkable in the small space. With guidance by director Linda Kennedy, Pierre and Dixon made smart choices, presenting believable body language.

The actors' authentic movements were aided in no small measure by window washing consultant Matt Johnson and fight choreographer Erik Kuhn.

Those involved behind the scenes brought considerable clarity to the show, staging it thoughtfully.

From their perch, the actors delve into a past they want to forget but can't.

The play is only 75 minutes, but the production's sterling examination of this pair isn't disposable, and will stick with you.


When: Oct. 14-16, 20-23

Company: Upstream Theatre

Where: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis

Information: 314-863-4999 or www.upstreamtheater.org