Written by Justin Rivers
Directed by Mindy Cooper
Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited
Two men – one older, one younger – cross paths in the former Pennsylvania Train Station from 1963 until 1966. The older Joseph Lanzarone (Clyde Baldo) teaches American and British Literature at Xavier High School. The younger Paul Abbot (Matthew Pilieci) works on the crew contracted to demolish the iconic train station and is an amateur photographer. Each holds a secret that connects him to the station beyond Joseph’s passion to save the structure and Mathew’s penchant to dismantle it and – oddly enough – photograph the process he participates in and Joseph protests. Their relationship begins near the Grand Staircase as Matthew rips down the protest posters pinned up by Joseph. Joseph sees in Mathew one to be taught and Matthew sees in Joseph a curmudgeon hell-bent on humiliating him and his educational prowess. The two spar – sometimes via the Socratic Method, sometimes via splintering raw emotion.
Through their “battle,” they slowly reveal the importance the Station has had in their lives and it is the revelation of these secrets that is at the heart and soul of Justin Rivers’ script which he first drafted in 2002 and now produces for the first time. Without having to proffer a spoiler alert, it can be disclosed that Joseph’s secret has to do with the departure of his brother from Pennsylvania Station at the beginning of World War II, the brother who never came home from that war, and Joseph’s grandfather. And Matthew’s secret – which explains both his willingness to participate in the destruction of the station and his need to photograph it – centers on the ticket booth and his mother.
Matthew and Joseph are involved in a complicated love triangle with the Station whose history with them and those they have loved provides the backdrop for their star-crossed friendship. Jason Sherwood’s stark set design along with the lighting design by Zach Blane, the projection design by Brad Peterson, and the remarkable photographs by Norman McGrath (and others) lend authenticity and interest to the plot that slowly is moved forward by the conflicts of the two protagonists. “The Eternal Space,” though often overly sentimental, successfully delivers an interesting story line that celebrates the mysterious and serendipitous nature of relationships – how they form, develop, and even dissolve.
Mindy Cooper provides attentive direction that gives the actors the room they need to develop their characters and tell their stories. The two actors here are somewhat mismatched, Mr. Pilieci (Paul) stronger than Mr. Baldo and delivering a more layered performance that exposes Paul’s complex background. Mr. Baldo does justice to Joseph but portrays his character in a somewhat surface way that often results in the “battle” between the two characters more lackluster than it should be. Nonetheless, “The Eternal Space” deserves a visit before it closes on December 6.