This is because White's despair — though in Bottitta's hands, it appears more as acquiescence — comes from a blend of aging, self-loathing, contempt for his academic circle, and a keen, literate comprehension of world history. White does not view the latter as an inexorable march of progress but as a long, twisted march of conquests and their accompanying sadism and anguish. The veneer of civilization has been fraying through the millennia, White argues. As a civilization, we're not ascending; we're dancing in circles. And White has arrived at the unyielding conclusion that the whole endeavor, macrocosmic and personal, is pointless.
His is not the most sophisticated of arguments. (He'd be smarter in Dostoyevsky's pen.) Rather, it seems at times a bookish rationalization for a personal malaise. Yet a personal malaise is sufficient to make one suicidal. It's not a requirement to carry the weight of the world in order to hurl oneself into the path of an oncoming train. The weight of one's own life can lead to much the same trajectory.
Redemption in Black and White: Smallwood and Bottitta
The play is philosophically and psychologically intriguing, but what makes the play a mesmerizing event is the performances: the chemistry, the visceral response and counterresponse, the playfulness, the mockery, the vernacular. In one scene White shrieks his despair, and the despair of existence, in a style probably intended to be some grandiose catharsis. The mere shrieking of it, however, reduces the scale of the argument to the pathological. It's a rare exception to a performance in which, in general, Bottitta wears White's confidence in the pointlessness of human endeavor as comfortably as a warm pair of pajamas. His argument is generally so persuasive because it comes from self-assurance.
Smallwood's Black is beyond reproach, as is the interplay between the pair.
THE SUNSET LIMITED | By CORMAC McCARTHY | Presented by ROGUE MACHINE at THEATRE/THEATER, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A. | Mon. & Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 5 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m. (no perfs Dec. 25-Jan. 6 or Jan. 28); through Jan. 31 | (323) 960-4424, roguemachinetheatre.com