Steve Yockey's afterlife: a ghost story (presented by New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through February 6) is a double feature. The first act depicts the disparate grieving of a couple who have lost a child; the only lurid aspect is the weather. But after intermission, we're whisked to a bleak trio of purgatory outposts populated by symbols and backed by an eerily whistling wind. It's as if David Lindsay-Abaire had penned the first half of Rabbit Hole, then turned the script over to a writing team of Samuel Beckett, Lewis Carroll, Sarah Ruhl, and the aging, drug-addled Tennessee Williams. It would seem Yockey likes to start with realism and then add magic.
In the case of aftermath, Connor and Danielle have returned to the beachfront home from which they retreated after their toddler son drowned. A serious storm has blown up, along with other portents including dead fish and big black birds. Connor and Danielle have come to batten down the hatches, not be swept away by a tsunami of grief — or maybe just a tsunami. But as waves crash and lightning flashes, the gulf between the couple widens. Connor writes a letter to his son, tosses it into the sea, and declares himself healed. Danielle rages at the ocean, whose swallowing of her son she neither accepts nor forgives. Perhaps it's not so far to the desolate shores of the pretentious and oft-repetitive second act, wherein the heartless sea is personified, Danielle finds a harsh eternal doppelgänger, and father and son try to communicate through a combination of Eastern mysticism and a purgatorial postal system.
afterlife is being presented in what is characterized as a "rolling world premiere": New Rep's production was preceded by one in New Orleans and will be followed by another in California. It is hard to imagine that either of those could better serve the bisected play than Kate Warner's ominous and evocative staging, abetted by the sturm und drang and then deadly still of David Remedios's sound design. Marianna Bassham brings both ferocity and fragility to Danielle, Thomas Piper a glib strength and then subdued suffering to Connor. Cristina Todesco's set does a nifty trick, and there is strong support from Karl Baker Olson, Adrianne Krstansky, Georgia Lyman, and Dale Place as the welcoming committee on the other side of the looking glass.
| IN THE FOOTPRINT Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz is represented by a basketball speaking into a microphone. |
I've seen a lot of musicals in development; this is the first I've seen about development. Acting as a collective Anna Deavere Smith, New York–based investigative troupe the Civilians spent two years researching and interviewing for In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards (presented by ArtsEmerson at the Paramount Black Box last week). The musical-theater piece, which opened two months ago in New York, chronicles the seven-year war over 22 acres of Brooklyn fated to fall to the wrecking ball but refusing to go down easy. The object: to make way for a pricy sports arena and high-rise business-and-condominium project spearheaded by real-estate mogul and part owner of the New Jersey Nets Bruce Ratner. Some New York–centric details may not resonate with Boston audiences, but issues of urban renewal (of which we've botched a few) are as hoary — and as pertinent — as Jane Jacobs's 1961 tome The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Moreover, the Civilians tart up their reportage with catchy ditties about eminent domain and community division, one of them delivered by a chorus of bloggers in bathrobes.