Lift, the wretched play by mystery writer Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress), takes place entirely inside a stuck elevator occupied by two people in a New York office building. The smart staging gimmick might have made the show (playing through Nov. 30 at Off Broadway’s 59E59) an enjoyable stunt—if for one single minute you ever believed that the set was an elevator car or that Tina (Maameyaa Boafo) and Theodore (Biko Eisen-Martin) were two actual human beings trapped within it.
Nothing said by either of the characters sounds real; nothing they do (including, of course, fall in love) seems spontaneous. Instead, Mosley slops on layers of reductionist racial commentary amid leaden stabs at humor. A sinister white CEO (Martin Kushner) appears briefly in the beginning to unleash a torrent of Grand Wizard-ish statements, which are vaguely played for laughs, about ”the blacks in America.” Later, there’s talk of terrorists who bombed the building and ”wanted to attack the Jews to wake America up.”
After stripping off all of his clothes for no reason, Theodore says, ”You have to admit this is kind of hilarious,” the worst type of audience-goosing remark when the situation so obviously isn’t. The production also successfully simulates the claustrophobic dilemma on stage with its running time—it’s a painful 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission. Not anymore, at least. The play’s marketing materials claim, ”The running time of Lift is 2 hours, including a 10-minute intermission.” Perhaps producers were worried that, after a short break, the 196-seat theater would be about as full as that onstage elevator. D