This review of Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger's AfterLife at The Secret Theatre was written by Christopher M. Struck 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 opened on a ragged set full of animal skins and scattered trash giving way immediately to a distinct dystopian vibe. To a soundtrack that provoked the feeling of an electronic Dances With Wolves, a woman ran along a barbed wire fence in search of trash. A "Tag" she calls herself when confronted by a strange man who she accuses of being a "Talker." More is revealed about whom Talkers and Tags are and how they relate as the play goes on, but now, we have the key back drop of the show. Two people meet just outside a fence patrolled by guards that protect some unseen compound that holds among other things an apple tree. One is a man and the other a woman.
This may spark some recognition of the tale of Adam and Eve and that would be on point. This story is a post-apocalyptic rendition of the classic tale of human creation inspired by a painting from the Voire Dire Project of a tree alongside a fence. The darkness of the painting in question could certainly have inspired the dark tone of the play, but there isn't anything particularly creation story oriented within the painting. The Invasion, painted by Cindi Cericola, instead looks like a plain picket fence with a barren tree so I would posit that the lone tree served as an opportune catalyst for a pre-conceived idea of a post-apocalyptic Adam and Eve. The play's content also focuses most heavily on the evil of "them" which typically insinuates greedy corporations who among other things "intoxicated" the world with plastic. The commentary is neither obtuse nor demonstrably insightful, but regardless, a few lines may provoke discussion such as a sequence when Stark Wilz as the Talker begins his attempt to lure the curvaceous Lani Cerveris Cataldi as the Tag into helping him to get two apples from a nearby tree by saying, "Are you hungry? I am starving...There is no garbage, and we shouldn't eat garbage. We could work together [to get the apples on the tree]."
The two actors were convincing in their roles, and they delivered the long stretches of dialogue fluidly and easily. However, they weren't required to do a whole lot other than stand across from each other and play off each other. When the Talker goes off to chase the apples that have fallen from the tree, the Tag sings, "Be with me, color the light...Be set free, be with me." When the Talker returns, he watches her sing. When she notices he is back, she states, "They can't stop the music," to which the Talker responds, "Teach me to sing. I want to be in tune with life." She coaxes the music out of him by talking him through a path of enlightenment similar to Buddhism's eight-fold path and lo and behold, he can sing! Both actors have beautiful voices. I'd be curious to see what they are capable of in potentially more demanding roles because I felt they handled this performance well.
Other highlights of the play include the costume design which was done by Lani too. Her makeup work made the two characters look like rugged adventurers who had been tested by years of violence and strife. The atmosphere, lighting, and stage design truly fit with the intended idea of the play. The play itself felt a little long-winded at times, but it provided a platform for discussion afterward, which was fun. People interpreted aspects of the play differently which allowed for the story to take on new life after the show. Additional performances of AfterLife at The Secret Theatre are on August 22nd at 7:30 p.m., August 27th at 3:00 p.m., and September 1st at 7:30 p.m. To get tickets, call the box office at 718-392-0722 or go online to www.secrettheatre.com. Enjoy!