Sunday, July 4, 2010

After the Madness

Currently playing at the Strand, Afterthoughts is a probing meditation on the massacre of students by a deranged fellow student. Loosely based on the Virginia Tech killings in 2007, the play focuses on the recollection of the massacre by five survivors: three of whom have died and wander through the afterlife and two of whom are still tethered to the earth. Written and directed by emerging playwright Alec Lawson, the brief drama (running time of one hour) provides a vivid portrait of the effort to make sense of what is senseless.
The drama presents this recollection of horror on two levels. In center stage, a triangle of the deceased try to understand the killings and make sense of the gloomy afterlife they have awakened to. Two murder victims (Will, played by Dan Walker, and Alison, played by Sheila Toomb) confront the killer (James, played by Michael Geib), who committed suicide at the end of his spree. The dialogue here is uneven. The in-jokes about theater majors age quickly; the "wisdom of life" remarks are often moralizing; the speculation on the afterlife has a grade-B "Twilight Zone" quality. The performance of the trio of actors is oddly restrained; little of the shock of the massacre comes through. Still, the expert blocking of the actors gives an appropriate sleepwalking quality to a trio wandering on the border between life and eternity.
More convincing is the simpler duet of survivors (played by Cordelia Snow and Courtney Williams). Perched on a balcony, the two survivors recount at a distance the events, the personalities, and the time-line of the fateful day. Their sober testimony ultimately proves more moving than the rambling debates of the trio in purgatory.
Enhancing this portrait of inexplicable violence is the brilliant set and lighting design by Kendra Richard. The black-and-white sculptural set of tumbled platforms and splintered fragments freezes the violence of the massacre and provides a haunting platform for the survivors' tales. The effective lighting, especially of the two living survivors dangling from the balcony, underscores the dream-like quality of the drama. One of the aesthetic strengths of the Strand Theater is its complete reconstruction of performance space for each production. Richard's reconstruction for Afterthoughts is an extraordinary achievement.

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