John Perrin Flynn’s topnotch staging of Cormac McCarthy’s 1996 two-character play shows that the author is a gifted dramatist as well as being a superb novelist. A life and death struggle emerges in the dingy apartment of an ex-con named Black (Tucker Smallwood), who has just rescued White (Ron Bottitta), from a suicide leap off a subway platform. That their names are racial signifiers is just one of the dynamics McCarthy uses to mine the ironies in this simple scenario. Black is poor, uneducated and a committed man of faith, an inner city Good Samaritan whose redemption came in prison and who unwaveringly believes in the value of life and God’s grace, while White is a hyper-rationalist, successful university professor and defiant atheist who is weighted down with crushing despair and hopelessness. It’s a high-stakes intervention where both men state their cases with unbridled passion and eloquence engendering a back and forth shift of empathies, and one never gets the sense of an immutable moral center or merely listening to lectures. McCarthy, who is noted for his sparse dialogue and powerful imagery, exhibits an uncanny ear for ghetto argot, but just as nimbly utilizes the idiom of the academic. When at the end, White erupts and expresses a weltanschauung of the darkest hue, one is reminded of Nietzsche’s remark about staring into the abyss. Complementing Flynn’s fine direction are the equally superb performances. Rogue Machine at Theatre, Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd. L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 960-4424,

Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m. Starts: Nov. 6. Continues through Dec. 19, 2010

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