This review of Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger's AfterLife at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger
Directed by Joan Kane
Costume Designs by Lani Cerveris Cataldi
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, Queens 11101
AfterLife turns the apocryphal Biblical story of Adam and Eve upside down and inside-out. Here, we are introduced to a dystopian society you might describe as being the opposite of the Garden of Eden. A post-apocalyptic encampment is trying to rebuild and restore order and repopulate the planet. The new administration is trying to encourage women to have children and works hard to train men so they can defend the settlement from raiders and plunderers. Criminals, dissenters, and "unfunctionaries" have been exiled from the community protected by guards. Talkers have been taught to look down on Tags, people who were "tagged" for criticizing the administration and punished by being forced to imbibe an elixir that dissolved (temporarily) their vocal cords. Music is forbidden and considered evil and the land is full of toxins. Even the toxins were made into an elixir and sold. Many find it intoxicating!
Two extremely talented actors are the main characters in this play. Stark Wilz plays the Talker, and Lani Cerveris Cataldi is the Tag. The Talker, a man later named Eve, is surprised the Tag, a woman later named Adam, can speak and tries to lure her to cross back over to where he is in order to be the lookout while he climbs a tree covered in toxic slime to get two apples for both of them to eat - one for him and one for her. I must confess that until I understood the Adam and Eve analogy, I thought the Talker was a creepy predator, who I fully expected had the intention of raping and killing the Tag. One can't really tell when it happened but, at some point, after they ate the apples, they become aware of the fact that the guards (also known as The New Guardians of Light because no one is allowed out in the light unless they pay for a pass) couldn't see them. Just as Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, the Eve and Adam from this alternate reality find they have been freed from the living hell they have been living in. Both conclude they are dead and no longer feel fear, pain, nor hunger. They are free to do as they please and to be happy together. Everybody sing! Kumbaya!
The costumes, designed by Lani Cerveris Cataldi, are absolutely stunning. Lindsay Shields put together an amazing set comprised of barb wire, plastic bottles, and what looked like animal skins. Some of the lighter animal skins doubled as quicksand. On the negative side, the Tag inexplicably seems to have retained knowledge of Chakras (i.e. Life-Force Energy Centers), to believe they may have met before in a prior life, and to think certain things were "meant to be." This New Age "we are all one" philosophy seemed out of place and written in only because the playwright might believe in such things, including an afterlife. The wounds each character had on their bodies were expertly done and very realistic. The funniest moment in the play came when the Talker climbed the tree to get the two apples and got "toxic slime" all over his face. He cried out "My God! The Slime. It's on my face. Get it off! Get it off! Get it off!". I would describe his hysterical reaction as "crying like a little girl." It was hilarious!
AfterLife has great potential even if it does require a bit more work. Main themes in the play need to be clarified. I found AfterLife to be quite interesting and the acting is top-notch. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at http://unfringed2017.bpt.me. Future performances are on Tuesday, August 22nd at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, August 27th at 3:00 p.m.; and Friday, September 1st at 7:30 p.m. It is part of Unfringed 2017 at The Secret Theatre.