A mother who meets the murderer of her own child will truly understand what it means to hate. A transformative hatred, the real kind. These are the images that come together in Nomadic Theatre’s fall show, “afterlife: a ghost story,” by Steve Yockey, in which a married couple must confront the death of their son.
The show follows Connor and Danielle, played by Thomas Shuman (COL ’17) and Emily Lett (COL ’17), who return to their beachside home to prepare for a storm and are immediately overwhelmed by the weight of their past.
Directed by Mollie B. Rodgers (COL’17) and produced by Joong Won Pyo (MSB ’18), “afterlife: a ghost story” is a particularly terrifying genre of horror. Rather than evoking fear from shocking imagery or gore, the premise of this show – the raw experiences, the characters and their reactions – trigger an internal terror.
Every detail of this show is well planned and precise, a testament to the dedication of the entire cast and crew. The set, designed by Sarah Kelly Konig (COL ’16) and Andrew Walker (SFS ’16), presents a hauntingly detailed depiction of the family’s home. The long strip of sand at the front of the stage, the multiple shell motif wall hangings and the sea glass mantle pieces feel authentic but somehow off-putting. It is clean – so clean that the family’s extended absence from their own living room is made uncomfortably obvious.
The intensity of this production cannot be overstated. Before Danielle utters a word, the pain she feels from taking one step into her home is tangible. The growing tension between her and her husband is immediately established as they disagree over trivial decisions. Even before the audience is made explicitly aware, it is clear that a deep conflict complicates their marriage.
The script explores exceptionally painful topics, which can be understandably taxing on the personal emotions of the actors.
Rodgers, the show’s director, spoke to the importance of remaining aware of this during rehearsal.
“It was always about putting actor health and safety first,” Rodgers said. “And then talking a lot about personal and emotional experiences. This show required that the cast open themselves up.”
In addition to the actors themselves contributing to the intense atmosphere on stage, the lighting and sound designers, Lucy Slevin (COL ’18) and Taylor Wan (COL ’16), demonstrated pure ingenuity in this respect. The impressive lighting and sound is epitomized in the moment that closes the first act.
As the tension between Danielle and Connor heightens, the energy of the roaring ocean follows suit. The sounds of the terrifying storm become so piercing that they drown out the couple’s shouts. The lights cut out completely as the bangs and crashes overpower the pitch darkness. The world as Danielle and Connor know it literally collapses around them. The unknown of what remains when the lights return will leave audience members cringing with horrified anticipation.
The opening act of the show concentrates exclusively on Danielle and Connor coping with the death of their son. The second act, however, introduces four new characters that deepen the already heavy story. In contrast to the initial realism, this portion of the show marks a shift towards the obscure and supernatural.
The characters played by Suzanne Coles (COL ’17), Vanessa Chapoy (COL ’18), Christian Lange (COL ’17) and Mark Camilli (COL ’19) each represent disturbing manifestations of the previous act. The careful characterization developed by these actors effectively blurs the lines between life and afterlife. According to Rodgers, much effort was dedicated to exploring this dynamic.
“It began with trying to figure out who the characters were, particularly for those who were playing non-human characters,” Rodgers said. “It was about going into the text and pulling out how you think the character would walk, the character’s center of energy, how they physically differ.”
By interpreting various forms of grief and mourning, this production exposes the most vulnerable of human fears. It puts love and loss into the context of eternity, forcing the question of what is next. Although it may lack a traditional fear factor, “afterlife: a ghost story,” creates its own category of horror. It promises and succeeds in delivering a haunting fright that cannot be forgotten.
“afterlife: a ghost story,” will be showing in the Devine Theatre from October 22nd – 24th and October 28th – 31st at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $8 per student and $12 for general admission. They can be purchased at the Davis Performing Arts Center in person or online at performingarts.georgetown.edu/boxoffice.