Cormac McCarthy's 'The Sunset Limited'

July 6, 2016

In 2006, Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre premiered The Sunset Limited, a stage play by novelist Cormac McCarthy. Widely reputed to be one of the greatest living American writers, McCarthy's work includes All the Pretty Horses (National Book Award), No Country for Old Men, and The Road (2007 Pulitzer Prize). A cult figure with a reputation as a writer's writer*, McCarthy captivates readers with rich, dark, and visceral narratives: storytelling that dares to articulate humanity's deepest struggles.

In The Sunset Limited, two men from opposite sides of the tracks face off as an unwelcome Saviour with his unrepentant Redeemed. Confined to an apartment, they contend over life and death, art and science, and faith vs. cynicism. What's the point of life when your hope has been exhausted?

In the American western, riding off into the sunset signified the victorious completion of a story: the hero journeyed alone in search of the next.** The historical "Sunset Limited" was a transcontinental train that crossed the American south from Atlantic to Pacific. In McCarthy's play, The Sunset Limited is a New York subway: its station the site of an attempted suicide. Fate (or possibly misfortune) intervenes for a man retreating to the ultimate West. Only in the solitude of death does he expect to escape the hell of existence.

McCarthy has never shied away from the shadow side, placing beauty in a context of brutality. Rarely is faith a comfort food, or spirituality a necessary solution for the condition.

Rosebud Theatre, by stark contrast, has made a name for itself celebrating hope. Our summer main-stage, Tent Meeting, is about lost faith restored by the power of relationship and the spiritual release of song. But Rosebud also places itself at a crossroads where both religious and secular congregate. We welcome the challenge to program work that finds common ground between opposing world-views. In The Sunset Limited the deck isn't stacked, and two men from drastically different perspectives duke it out intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

Does faith really make a difference? How can we lose those we love? And how do we hold out hope, when there is so often seemingly none, within or regardless of religious belief?

The BMO Studio Stage has increasingly become our venue to explore more challenging, thought-provoking theatre. Our mandate to "illustrate the beauty and complexity of life through an inclusive and grace-filled perspective" isn't a prescription for happy endings or tidy moralizing. It often means taking a hard look at unanswered questions, believing in beauty without turning a blind eye to an often disconcerting mess.

This summer, we invite you to our hamlet to enter the restorative Tent Meeting and ride the compelling Sunset Limited. Experience a journey many discover themselves on... whatever the destination.

Cormac McCarthy's 'The Sunset Limited'

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