04/04/2013 - 13/04/2013
A drama about life, death and what lies in between.
Life. After. began when playwright Anita Ross stumbled upon an intriguing idea. What if the living and the dead had the chance (or the misfortune) to grieve together?
Unaware of her sudden and unexpected death, Stella returns to her flat to find her big sister Maya has moved in. Together, they go through the process of grieving, dealing with the absurd situation they have found themselves in, embarking on a journey of figuring out where they belong and how to find the courage to move on.
4 – 13 April, 8.30pm
BATS Theatre: Out of Site, Cnr Cuba & Dixon St
Book: 04 8024175 or http://bats.co.nz/shows/life-after/
Tickets: $18 / 14
Starring: Liz Kirkman and Anita Ross
Sound Design: Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Lighting Design: Uther Dean
Real spirit of sisterhood
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 08th Apr 2013
Life.After. is a short two-hander play about two sisters, Stella and Maya, who tackle some big imponderables about such things as life, death, grieving, love, the past, and the present.
Stella, however, has a problem. Not only has she shuffled off this mortal coil but she also finds herself back from the undiscovered country and in the familiar surroundings of her old flat in Wellington. To her chagrin she finds that her older sister, Maya, has moved in.
They flit back and forth through time reliving their childhood (tantrums, sisterly jealousies), reminiscing about holidays, and arguing, making up, and arguing some more. Maya amusingly relates how Stella’s funeral was not quite the ceremony Stella had hoped for. Stella was an actress and committed suicide at 24, though it is never made clear what drove her to it.
Eventually both of them, I think, decide it is time for Stella to return to the undiscovered country and the problem then arises: how? At this point some tension and bit more humour are at long last added to the play as they light candles, burn incense, ring a bell and do various things to help Stella on her way.
Anita Ross (Maya) and Liz Kirkman (Stella) create a believable sisterly relationship that veers sharply at times between love and temporary hatred. The performances are also convincingly physical particularly when they move back and forth through time. They both, however, spoke at a fair clip throughout which made a few sections hard to follow. Uther Dean’s excellent lighting created a suitable atmosphere throughout as did Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s smartly timed sound design.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Some questions answered, others not
Review by John Smythe 05th Apr 2013
The psychologically ‘real’ phenomenon of ‘conversing with the dead’ has been dramatised many times in different genres (the intense drama of Shakespeare’s Hamlet being challenged by his father, for example, contrasted with the comedy of Charles Condomine inadvertently getting the spirit of his vexing first wife when dabbling with the supernatural in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit). It is an excellent device for bringing unresolved thoughts, feelings and issues to the surface, usually in the context of grief, guilt or both.
Anita Ross’s Life. After. brings a young woman, Maya, home to the flat she has taken over in the wake of her younger sister Stella’s death. But Stella, asleep on the sofa, wakes at her sister’s arrival and both freak out at the apparent reality of the situation.
When Stella instantly says “I’m not a ghost” and seems to have trouble accepting she’s dead, and when she turns out to be corporeal to her incredulous sister’s touch, questions arise for me that subvert my willing suspension of disbelief in the situation.
Of course it is an excellent strategy to raise questions that get us seeking answers as the action plays out, as long as they don’t alienate us from buying into the story and we get some pay-off for our investment of mental and emotional energy.
A powerful soundtrack by Tane Upjohn-Beatson, who has virtually scored the whole play, and a dynamic lighting design by Uther Dean, who is kept busy throughout operating both sound and lights, help to delineate different emotional states of being. And a very specific switch into subjective ‘inner thoughts’ suggests the ‘normal’ state is therefore objective yet the action we are observing can only be non-naturalistic, so whose reality are we sharing?
Is this happening in Maya’s head or is it Stella, in some limbo, who needs ‘completion’? Are they simpatico enough to have met halfway in order to resolve their respective-cum-mutual needs? If the latter, what are we to make of Stella’s mini-soliloquies? Is she talking to us or to herself in another mental space beyond Maya’s consciousness?
I would like to think Ross – who also plays Maya – has a metaphysical, philosophical, theological and ontological rationale for the action she has dramatised, and that her director Shannon Friday, her co-actor Liz Kirkman, and the designers are aligned with it. But my gut tells me Maya and Stella are yet to be liberated from articulating the playwright’s questions to herself.
As Maya and Stella, Ross and Kirkman certainly commit totally to a full range of emotional states of being, both in the post-mortem ‘present’ and in their shared memories of childhood. Kirkman is especially impressive in a ‘meltdown’ moment that proves how real a fantasy can be – in this case one concerning a dragon and a flower.
One question that does get answered, eventually, is why these sisters have different accents. It’s not specified where they come from but their parents kept making them leave and they came to NZ as children. Maya, being older – and I think having left again in adult life before returning for the funeral and staying on – has retained what sounds like a Canadian accent with the odd Germanic vowel (Ross was born and raised in Berlin). While Stella’s natural voice is Kiwi, Kirkman therefore takes on a North American accent in the childhood sequences.
We learn how the media reported Stella’s death but learn little more about how it happened or why, which also confuses me as I cannot imagine why these would not be major questions for remaining family members. If mention is made of where the parents are now, it eludes me. (The modern tendency to speak fast at the expense of clarity, subtracting syllables from words and running what remains together as a strange-sounding word, may mean I missed it along with who knows what else.)
Following a recollection of the excitement Stella experienced on winning a continuing role in a TV series, we get an interesting insight into the loneliness that can accompany such ‘success’. The relationship between this and her premature death is only hinted at, however.
Given it seems they went their different ways in recent years, the closeness the sisters retrieve by spending this time together does give the play, production and performances a strong dramatic shape. Indeed there is such non-verbal eloquence at this level that quite a bit of the text towards the end seems redundant.
Maybe it is because it is unclear as to who summoned whom into this realm of interaction, and how, that exactly how Maya can finally let go and Stella may now move on becomes a problem for them to solve, which generates some amusing by-play.
My feeling is that if this play is to have a life after the opening season, Ross as playwright needs to interrogate and clarify the aforementioned metaphysical, philosophical, theological and ontological rationale so that it becomes a hidden foundation for the play. That done, the characters will be free to engage in their compelling concerns in a way that engages our empathy.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer