The Coast Starlight ***

By: Isa Goldberg

March 31, 2023: A twist of dramatic form, as we know it, creates the matrix to Keith Bunin’s new play, “The Coast Starlight” at Lincoln Center Theater at The Mitzi E. Newhouse.

The company of Lincoln Center Theater’s “The Coast Starlight”

By: Isa Goldberg

March 31, 2023: A twist of dramatic form, as we know it, creates the matrix to Keith Bunin’s new play, “The Coast Starlight,” at Lincoln Center Theater at The Mitzi E. Newhouse. 

Set on the titular train ride between Seattle and Los Angeles, the conversation on board is a projection of the characters’ impressions, about one another. Much as we hear, and watch them act out their fantasies, the dialogue is primarily from the characters’ inner consciousness. 

Bunin is a thought provoking playwright, however this production, directed by Tyne Rafaeli feels verbose, and lacking movement. Much of that lies in Bunin’s concept, which is a reach for live theater. Still, the production finds its pace at moments. 

The Company of The Coast Starlight.

Some of these are when the lead character, a young man en-route to a life altering decision, aches to imagine himself with the young woman next to him, and shrivels at the scorn of a bearded man with tattoos. 

At times, the collision of inner consciousness and real time events, is ambiguous. To that extent, the play’s conclusion is up to the viewer. As a drama, “Starlight” is less concerned with T.J.’s outcome, than in that which drives his fate. It’s a matter of his perception of others, and how he sees himself, in that context.

To what extent the characters’ musings are accurate is also less significant than the reality of just being a stranger in a public place. In this respect, the play speaks to the need for human interaction. For that reason, much of the narration comes through in T.J.’s gaze at the woman next to him, and Jane’s sizzling desire to meet him. While unspoken their feelings speak volumes.  

Will Harrison, Camila Cano-Flavia and cast of The Coast Starlight.

Will Harrison brings a supple sense of anxiety and innocence to the role of T.J. Beyond his existential ruminating, we can only hope that the journey will lead him to a life that is truly freer than Camus’ “Stranger” discovers.

In contrast, Camila Cano-Flavia as Jane, his romantic interest, has a beautiful vitality. 

Regardless of whether or not their passion has words, Liz who boards the train midway into the action, delivers a monologue with a ton of them. Obie Award-winning Mia Barron’s bombshell potential is well known to Off Broadway audiences, and those who have seen her as the middle- aged sex magnet in “Hurricane Diane”. 

Here Barron enters, phone-in-hand, describing her experience at the Couples Workshop at The Human Awareness Institute.  Arriving in the midst of what is essentially a memory play, Barron’s phone conversation drives the drama into some wild territory. 

Attracting the attention of a rough looking guy who shows us how buffed he is, Liz meets Noah, played by Rhys Coiro. No doubt, he knows lots about coupling.

Others share more tragic reflections in their monologues. Passing as a traveling businessman, Ed (Jon Norman Schneider) reveals that he’s an alcoholic who moves from one Best Western to the next. And a mother (Michelle Wilson) needs to get home to her kids. 

In this production, a solid ensemble makes for an engrossing evening. Perhaps seeing into the actors as they peer into themselves brings us to a more essential theater.

Fortunately, T.J.’s final moment radiates a sense of hope, thanks primarily to Lap Chi Chu’s supple use of light, and shadows. Along with projections by 59 Productions, the entire show is set against vistas of sky, with undulating waves and linear swaths of color reflecting mood. It makes for a fascinating light show.

Mia Barron, Rhys Coiro, Michelle Wilson, Will Harrison, and Jon Norman Schneider in The Coast Starlight

Similarly, Daniel Kluger’s original music, leaning toward the electronic, and spooky weaves the texture of the piece, in the background. On stage, the sleekness of a brand new looking train with well-spaced seating, designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, looks like a pleasure. 

Behind it all, is the shared observation that human interaction, or our sense of it has transitioned greatly in recent years. From the pandemic and prolonged isolation, to the storming of Capital Hill, and the murder of George Floyd, and the riots that followed, the non-ordinary has become a new norm. 

The Coast Starlight ***
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater @Lincoln Center
150 W 65th St, New York, NY 10023
Photography: T. Charles Erickson