In High Noon, adapted from the iconic 1952 film of the same name, the Hollywood Western meets Waiting for Godot, in an intriguing, at times unsettling evening of theater.  Long romanticized in print and onscreen, the story of the “Wild West” has been fed to us as an endless adrenaline-fest of raucous evenings with saloon girls, barn raisings, swaggering lawmen and good old-fashioned shoot-outs.  Painting the danger as adventure, and cloaking the struggle for order in robes of American Exceptionalism, we’ve constructed the ‘noble pioneer’ to distract us from the truth of how we effectively bullied our way across the frontier.  In the film High Noon, writer Carl Foreman dared to veer in the direction of truth, devising a realistic, more nuanced narrative.  His lawman doesn’t swagger; he pauses. 
Director Randy Sharp has dug into Foremans’ screenplay, dissecting its emotional complexity.  These pioneers are simple humans trying to get along in a barren landscape where even life’s basics are a luxury and ‘justice’ often lies in the hands of one man.  Marshal Barnon (Brian Barnhart) is that man.  At the tail end of his career, he faces one last confrontation with lawlessness.  A murderer he sent to jail has been released and is rumored to be on the next train to town, ready to take his vengeance on the man who had him locked up.  On this day of both his retirement and his wedding, Barnon faces a dilemma:  should he stay and face this one last showdown or should he escape with his pretty, young wife (Katie Rose Summerfield) to start life anew.  Duty draws Barnon toward the showdown and yet, as he tries to drum up support in the community he meets resistance and resentment.  No-one answers the call to back him up.  After depending on Barnon for years, they are happy to rid themselves of him, and as soon as possible.  Going back and forth endlessly over the same emotional terrain, people change their minds and question their choices.  It’s as if they are under a spell of existential inertia.  How will it end?  When will it end?  Will it ever end?

High Noon is a truly ensemble piece.  The uniformly excellent cast often moves as one.  Remaining onstage the entire play, the actors circle the playing space and each other almost as one organism.  Characters advance and retreat, emerging from the group to create a scene, and then fading into the background as others move forward.  Clad in period costumes in various shades of grey, the actors are sometimes little more than shadows.  This unaffected choreography keeps the action moving despite the abstract, bare bones presentation.

The play starts with a bang – literally – in pitch blackness, while beautiful, ragged music composed by Paul Carbonara plays in the background, perfectly evoking the spirit of what follows.  Lights come up on the ensemble in suspended animation.  In this stripped down production, the stage is almost completely bare.  Lacking the trappings of a typical Western context, the performance focuses on the emptiness as much as the emotion.   A few standouts in the cast include the dynamic Britt Genelin as the shopkeeper Helen, whose inner flame has you rooting for her.  She might actually be the one to escape life in the void.  She has an excellent foil in Jon McCormick, as her sometime beau Senator.  George Demas, as Baker, rises above the visual sonority of the ensemble moving around him, in his impassioned defense of his decision to protect and then abandon his friend.  He won’t be judged.  As Barnon’s wife Alice, Katie Rose Summerfield maintains an innocence that sets her apart from the apathy of the town’s other residents.  At one point Alice starts to sing sweetly; perhaps this will lure Barnon away from the gunfight.  Or perhaps she is just losing her mind.  You can well understand how she might.  As the evening progresses, the sound of the wind that blows in the background throughout the performance and the relentlessness of the movement ramps up our anxiety as we all await the Marshal’s decision.   Pause becomes reset, and the dance begins again.
High Noon, based on the Screenplay by Carl Foreman, created by Axis Company, directed by Randy Sharp.  With Spencer Aste, Brian Barnhart, Andrew Dawson, George Demas, Britt Genelin, Phil Gillen, Jon McCormick, Nicholas McGovern, Brian Parks, and Katie Rose Summerfield. The creative team includes Randy Sharp (Director), Erik Savage (Production Stage Manager) Laurie Kilmartin (Asst. Stage Manager), David Zeffren (Lighting Designer), Amy Harper (Asst. Lighting Designer), Chad Yarborough (Set Designer), Karl Ruckdeschel (Costume Designer), Jess Gersz (Asst. Costume Designer) Lynn Mancinelli (Prop Designer), and Paul Carbonara (Composer/Sound Designer).
High Noon, presented by Axis Theatre Company, runs Oct. 3 – 27; performances Oct. 3-6, 8-13, 18-20, 24-27 at 8pm.  Tickets: $30 for adults, $20 for seniors/students, and $10 for artists and people under 30.  Performances are FREE for veterans and active U.S. service members and their families. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling TheaterMania at 212.352.3101.  Run time 70 minutes, no intermission.