In 1984, when he was just 34 years old himself, John Patrick Shanley wrote Savage in Limbo about five 32 year old losers in a Bronx bar, a play which might almost be looked upon as sort of a cross between Sartre’s No Exit and William Inge’s Bus Stop. The play was not in a class with either the Inge or Sartre work and might have been totally forgotten were it not for the fact that twenty years later, in 2004, Shanley wrote Doubt: A Parable, a far better play which took Broadway by storm, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Actress, Best Featured Actress and Best Direction in 2005, going on to become a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. But once Doubt appeared, interest was renewed in Shanley’s earlier work which explains the current revival of Savage in Limbo by Rosalind Productions, The Platform Group and The Drilling Company.
This is not a bad play by any means: it is amusing and has some interesting things to say. And this production is well done, nicely directed, and boasts some fine performances. But the play is likely to prove of more interest as an historical relic to those theatre aficionados who enjoy tracing the evolution of a playwright’s work than as a fully realized show in its own right.
The play is set in a Bronx bar in which five 32 year olds get to bemoan their existences, commit themselves to change their lives and, predictably, persist in being just who they’ve been all along, changing little about their actual lives while paying lip service to the idea of change. The characters themselves are similarly predictable: April White (Kendall Rileigh), an alcoholic; Denise Savage (Abigail Rose Solomon), a disappointed virgin; Linda Rotunda (Shara Ashley Zeiger), a slut; Tony Aronica (Brian Patrick Murphy), Linda’s not very bright boyfriend; and Murk (Maxwell Zener), the bartender/proprietor. All are 32 years old, April, Denise and Linda having been grade school classmates years ago, and all lead existentially empty lives.
As the play develops, Linda is distraught at Tony’s having left her; April sinks deeper into her alcoholic haze; Denise seeks to convince Tony to relieve her of her burden of virginity; Tony discovers the sexual appeal of “ugly” women; and Murk attempts to keep everything on an even keel, no matter how great an effort it takes. In performing their roles, Brian Patrick Murphy is truly outstanding as Tony and both Kendall Rileigh (as April) and Shara Ashley Zeiger (as Linda) are equally good.