By Jim Rutter
In No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre encapsulated the torment of existence in his line “hell is other people." Unlike the central character Tony in Kash Goins gripping Tonight?, Sartre never lingered 30 years on death row for murdering five women.
Sartre also didn’t suffer years of abuse from a drunken mother who locked him in a closet for days without food, or a priest who molested him from ages seven to 10. Over a 50-minute one-act, Goins’ memory play revisits each of these heinous events; in true existential fashion, what else would Tony do when all he can do is wait?
As Tony (played by Goins) sits on a bed, transfixed by memory, his cell door swings open and shut, admitting a former girlfriend (Ruth Oliver) he killed, the priest (Michael Way) he also murdered, and the mother who abused him (Oliver). A celebrity lawyer, Anthony Hillenbrand (Donny Donnelly), narrates and comments, and also serves as an alter-ego who further berates Tony with the reminder of the potential man his brutal childhood destroyed.
In Goins’ stirring performance, the nightly toll of recollection reduces him to a quivering blob coated in spittle and sweat. While Way terrifies in his brutal depiction of Tony’s molestation, the rest of the cast can’t conjure matching performances, and struggle to emote their trite lines (“I can tell when you’re upset." "I’m not upset." "Yes, you are.”
Goins’ direction starts slowly and initially confuses about the surreal nature of the piece. However, by casting a caucasian actor as Tony’s alter ego, he infuses the existential themes with a subtle social commentary on the racial disparity in death-penalty convictions. He asks for neither sympathy nor condemnation, only a recognition of the daily torture inflicted by solitary confinement and exacerbated by a judicial system of appeals, deferments and the continually postponed execution that lends the title its question mark.
Not even the most strident death penalty supporters would defend a punishment that forces its prisoners to scrawl on the wall not days passed until parole but nights peering over the precipice of suicide. Tonight? shows us the hell and the exit in Tony’s line “I’m a gonna be in here till I die.”
Through Sunday at the Adrienne Theater 2nd Stage, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $15-$20. Information: www.putf.org.
Tuesday September 27th - Friday September 30th @ 8PM, Saturday October 1st @ 3PM and 8PM, Sunday October 2nd @ 7:00PM