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Ever sat on a plane, or a train, or even in a theatre seat and wondered about the lives, choices, and stories of the strangers around you?  How your life, and theirs could be impacted by a simple action like saying “hello”?  THE COAST STARLIGHT, by Keith Bunin is making its world-premiere at The La Jolla Playhouse through September 15th and explores what is left unsaid.

The cast of THE COAST STARLIGHT photo by Jim Carmody

Set on the train the title references and its journey from Los Angeles to Seattle, this contemplative tale that explores the imagined dialogue between strangers on the train, and how their lives could have interacted and potentially even changed by these interaction. The play opens with Navy medic T.J. (Nate Mann) who has boarded the train from San Diego, and animation artist Jane (Camila Canó-Flaviá).  He caught Jane’s eye as a subject to sketch, because of his sad and apprehensive air, he thinks she looks like someone who would be interesting to talk to as well. 

Technically, they never do speak to one another at that point, but their fictional interactions begin.  Jane is going to see her boyfriend, where she thinks they may break up.  T.J. is running away from another deployment to Afghanistan, but it torn about whether he should go through with it or not.

Their imagined communication is interrupted and added to by the arrival of more passengers.  There is veteran Noah (Rhys Coiro) who is on his way to see his elderly mother, and loud and garish Liz (Mia Barron), who is leaving her partner after a failed couple’s weekend. Then comes Ed (Rob Yang) a traveling business man who drinks to numb the pain of constant travel and being away from his kids, and Anna (Stephanie Weeks) who is coming back from San Francisco after a family tragedy.

As each new addition arrives the conversations pivot to include them and we can see the multiple variations of the conversations, advice, and decisions branch out along multiple paths.  As they each become more invested in each other, and the decision of the increasingly conflicted T.J. comes closer to its deadline, the tension of what happens when the train journey ends becomes more pressing.

Mann embodies the compassionate and conflicted military man wonderfully, with plenty of vulnerability and sweetness as he interacts with Canó-Flaviá’s creative and curious Jane.  Barron as Liz brightens everything up with her bold and candid outlook on life. Her delivery is key and in the hands of a less able performer the lines would not have the same impact.

Directed by Tyne Rafaeli the play is well paced, and has plenty of humor laced through. Scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado is clean lines, and a good use of moveable set pieces and a turntable to keep things fluid.  Lighting design by Lap Chi Chu adds to the sense of unceasing motion as the world speeds by them on the train.

The play’s contemplative and explores the idea of our place in the world, and what differences can be made when the “if only” and “maybe I should” thoughts that have crossed our minds when surrounded by strangers are played out. From changing life’s path entirely, to just learning from the experience of the very different life lived by the person near you; it all has an impact.

Since a majority of this play takes place in an imagined conversation, if a philosophical bent is not to your liking this play can feel like it needs to be “a little less talk a lot more action” is required. 

If a thought provoking play sounds like a journey that would appeal, I recommend you buy a ticket to catch THE COAST STARLIGHT.

THE COAST STARLIGHT is playing at the La Jolla Playhouse through September 15th.  For ticket and show time information go to

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