Take it on yourself to climb the ‘stairway to heaven’ to see After Eternity at the Access Theatre, a truly imaginative and intriguing play written by Eugenie Carabatsos, and deftly directed by Harry Poster. Every aspect of this production was well-thought-out and invested with truth and fine artistry. Without giving away too much, the premise of the play is that somewhere in Eternity, a girl is living inside her ideal dream palace. It has everything she'd ever want. There's no one in this world except her and her palace. She soon encounters a stranger with a neighboring palace and he and his palace start making a profound impact on her life.
Even the pre-show, a unique band of two guitars and a cello helped ease us into this fascinating world. Their fresh voices and fresh sound support the set-up of this world. The two actors featured, Suzanna Bornn and Ryan Peter as Man and Woman, give sensational performances, supported gracefully by the simple and open performances of dancers Julia Boyes and Kevin Carillo.
The first thing walking into the space that struck me was the stunning set design. The Access Theatre’s gallery space is a great venue, transforming the typical idea of a ‘black box’ space into a white-walled, wooden floor, windowed, open room. Adding to the art of this space, the scenery of white panels in different shapes angles to create even more depth. These panels were moved by the dancers to create the palace that the Woman is willing into existence in the play. Her wonder and joy, we, as the audience, also experience due to the innovative design of Josh Iacovelli. Flipping the panels we see that one is a bookshelf, one has a chess set on it, and others have light bulbs and empty frames. Props to lighting designer Tim Huth for providing wireless lighting so the panels could have the mobility to morph the space. The sound design of Daniel Acampa supports the world with the freedom of soft jazz, evoking a sense of memory, play and nostalgia that supports certain aspects of the play. The costumes, designed by Priscilla Stampa, followed the characters’ journeys, as when the palace changes, so did their clothes. And the stark white clothing of the dancers helped showcase their honest performances. It’s funny how white can be used in totally different, yet powerful ways like the stark blunt white of the Guilty Remnant from my previous review for Monolodge of the Leftovers:
The play starts with the Male dancer reading a book in his own moment in the show’s real pre-show (after the band), and we feel as if we are going to fall into his story with him. But also he is subtle enough that those wishing to continue conversation can do so. Then a change of lights and entrance of the Female dancer and changes of panels puts us into this palace of Eternity. Supported by superb writing, the actors lead us into an exploration of the imagination, what’s real or not, what’s fact or fiction, and the real human conflicts associated with these heady ideas. As an artist, there is always a fear of the deterioration of our imagination (or our palace), causing us to question "what if our creative will runs dry?" These two characters start in their own separate palaces and then are forced into one, and the conflict intruding on one another’s space becomes a visible reality to the audience. Who hasn’t hated a crowded subway train full of strangers? Who wants another strange person to suddenly appear in the space of our own creation? The conflict of merging in a world that is only getting smaller and then negotiating that directly mirrors our everyday existence. We create walls between other people, and at first these characters do as well (literally in this case). We begin to wonder: are these people gods? Are they the first Man and Woman? Are they the last Man and Woman? The on-going mystery and the conflict of the moments open the mind of the audience to explore these themes in themselves and through these characters. Suzanna Bornn shows amazing emotional depth as the free-spirited willful woman, and the steady, bookish but also dynamic Ryan Peter perfectly balances her performance.
The dancers and the choreography of Dia Dearstyne, play a unique role in this play. They observe the actors, empathize with them, inhabit their inner life and show what’s going on between the lines of these actors. An especially touching moment is a dance telling the story of what happened to the man and the woman at the end. Julia Boyes, who is very young looking in real life, so embodied the story of the Woman that I actually saw an old woman in her face at the end. Very touching.
The collaboration of this project is seamless, and from this wonderful team, a truly hypnotic show emerged. Yes, it may be called After Eternity, but the show flew by in what felt like a moment.