Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Their current production, The Ever and After is such a play, having its world premiere at the Crane Theater. Rachel Teagle, a playwright now based in Minneapolis, first unleashed her play in a 2011 workshop at the Horizon Theatre Apprentice Company in Atlanta, followed by a 2012 reading at Leah Ryan's Fund for Emerging Women Writers in New York City, and a 2013 workshop at Chicago's InFusion Theatre Company. Fast forward to 2019 and its first full production, an outcome of Theater Pro Rata's play-reading process.
Fast forward is a good way to talk about The Ever and After. It takes place in a dystopian future, with a landscape comprising heaps of garbage, wrecked furniture, mildewed books, rusted paint cans, ladders, random tools, and other debris, corralled by chain link and chicken wire. We are met with oddly sentimental musicrecorded vocalists singing such mid-century tunes as "It's a Good Day" and "We'll Meet Again." A video depicts a madly racing society, a civilization on steroids that looks a lot like us. Then comes a blast and a nuclear mushroom cloud. On a newsreel, the Presidenta white male, but not one we recognizetalks about the terrible toll recent events have taken on the human species, very few of whom made it through the cataclysm, but with assurances that our species will survive.
It is many years later when two who have survived enter. Thurston is a highly intelligent cockroach, the beneficiary of years spent absorbing knowledge at a university library. Sheelar is a teenage girl who became Thurston's ward after her mother died. Sheelar takes great pride in knowing that her mother was an Amazon, and believes she has inherited her mother's acumen as a warrior. Her ferocity and strength help to fend off the dangers inherent in this scarred new world. She is also deeply influenced by Maslow's hierarchy of needs, depicted as a pyramid on a note left to her by her mother.
Thurston and Sheelar are startled to encounter a robotor, simply, bottrapped in a cabinet amid the rubble. Ida, the bot, appears as a cheery 1961 housewife, a pastel vision in yellow shoes, turquoise skirt, tiny apron, pink striped shirt, and clunky white pearls. Ida's speech is programmed with looped responses prepared for virtually any inquiry. She was programmed to provide companionship and is desperate to find the President, who she is certain has been looking for her. This would entail helping her return to the "settlement," a cluster of human survivors under the President's command and implementing his sole objective: to repopulate the human race. Sheelar is at first highly suspicious of Ida. This greatly perturbs the bot, who is programmed to be liked. Thurston, however, wants to protect Ida, which means keeping her away from the settlement.
Teagle's narrative is highly inventive, and bears some important ideas. Of course, one has to suspend disbelief right from the start to accept a cockroach who not only speakswith perfect grammar, unlike his human companionbut who also has soaked up the collective knowledge encased in a university library. Sure, we have often heard that were there be a nuclear holocaust, the most likely to survive are the cockroaches, but in this vision we have a veritable post-apocalyptic Jiminy Cricket. And yet, the conceit of a cockroach as savant is pleasing, and well developed by the playwright.
If you take the bait, you will be rewarded with a spirited depiction of the battle between individual liberty and collective submission for the sake of a social good, even if half the population is robbed of their personhood in pursuit of that good. The implicit focus is on reproductive freedom, but the play also addresses how much control needs to be placed on our technology, and more broadly, at what point might the cost of species survival be ruled too great.
The Ever and After is provocative and engaging, but suffers from being flaky and illogical at times. There are careless plot twists, such as Thurston, struggling in vain to escape from a prison cell, abruptly being able to leap out just when the timing makes it most opportune. Though this makes no sense, it is totally predictable, which makes it a double miss. A radical change in heart on the part of one character comes totally out of the blue, as a convenience for moving the plot along, with no internal logic to make it feel true. While the basic narrative works, it is weighed down by flaws like these.
The performances are as strong as the characters they portray allow. Bethany McHugh is winning as Sheelar, an embittered and sullen teenager trying to make a life out of horrible circumstances, who breaks through her walls in her capacity to reach out to Ida, and to accept the truth about herself.
Doc Woods is excellent as Thurston, portraying the unlikely eloquence and compassion of this super-brainy bug as if it were actually possibleor, perhaps, as if he were a man and not a cockroach, showing that any species that acquires the intellect and heart of a human can fulfill the role of a human.
Ankita Ashrit is totally convincing as the automaton Ida. She functions with units of mechanized speech and feelings, then, almost imperceptibly, allows traces of humanity to emerge. Travis Bedard makes the President easy to despise, convincing himself and the world at large that his maniacal plan serves the common good. Grant Hoover has little to work with as Roger, a man from the settlement who appears first as a totally predatory male, then is suddenly penitent, with nothing between to make his change of heart persuasive.
Sofia Lindgren Galloway directs The Ever and After as if she believes every word. The conviction with which it is staged goes a considerable way toward covering up its lapses. Galloway moves the play's two acts at a brisk pace that keeps us engaged, and reduces time available to question the odd bits that don't fit together. Stalwart fight choreographer Annie Enneking stages startlingly realistic seeming brawls.
Ursula K. Bowden is responsible for the striking set. Samantha Kuhn Staneart's costume designs are marvelously whimsical, with special mention of Thurston's tattered leather waistcoat, plaid vest, and pilot's cap sprouting antennae, a cockroach trying his very best to be genteel in a hellish world. Topher Pirkl's sound design and Emma Kowler's lighting add atmosphere to the story, with Kowler doing a striking job with the projections that place the plot in the larger world context, as well as the President's increasingly desperate speeches.
The Ever and After is a fine example of Theatre Pro Rata bringing to light a play well worth seeing and talking about. Have they unearthed a dramatic gem? It would be a stretch to say so. However, The Ever and After captures and deserves our attention. Placing the story in a dystopian future does not disguise the fact that it raises issues facing us right now, and it presents arguments on both sides of those issuesalbeit it making its leaning toward one perspective fairly evident. Theatre Pro Rata puts a shine on the play with a robust production that brings out its best qualities, thus maintaining its unique and vital place amid our large array of theater companies.
The Ever and After, runs through December 22, 2019, at Theatre Pro Rata, Crane Theater, 2303 Kennedy Street N.E., Minneapolis MN. Tickets: Take your pick, $20.00, $30.00 or $40.00. For more information and tickets call 612- 234-7135 or go to theatreprorata.org.
Playwright: Rachel Teagle; Director: Sofia Lindgren Galloway; Set Design: Ursula K. Bowden; Costume Design: Samantha Kuhn Staneart; Lighting and Projection Design: Emma Kowler; Sound Design: Topher Pirkl; Prop Design: Jenny Moeller; Fight Choreography: Annie Enneking; Stage Manager: Clara Costello
Cast: Ankita Ashrit (Ida), Travis Bedard (President), Grant Hoover (Roger), Bethany McHugh (Sheelar), Doc Woods (Thurston).