Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see David's review of Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika
As a composer and lyricist, Ms. Johnson nicely captures, musically, the layered feelings inherent in simultaneously experiencing past, present, and speculated future. And Barry Edelstein is directing an admirable realization of Life After in its U.S. premiere on The Old Globe's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage.
Sixteen-year-old Alice Carter (Sophie Hearn) feels lost after the sudden death of her father Frank (Bradley Dean). Frank was a celebrated self-help author who constantly toured promoting his books. He died shortly after having a conflict with Alice and leaving her phone messages asking her to call him, saying that he was sorry.
The reactions of those around her make Alice confused. Beth Carter, Alice's mother (Mamie Parris), immediately wants to repaint a room in their house. Kate Carter (Charlotte Maltby) seems caught up in herself, announcing early on that she is vegan, and that fact absolutely must be taken into account in planning a memorial event. Best friend Hannah (Livvy Marcus) wants to be there for Alice but doesn't quite know how.
Alice investigates on her own. As she does so, she's got a soundtrack in her head, provided by a trio of imaginary back-up singers (Ximone Rose, Mackenzie Warren, and Charlotte Mary Wen). As she sorts through her memories, she eventually is led to a woman (Dan'yelle Williamson) who helps put some of the pieces into perspective.
Life After began as a song cycle and still has some of that feel to it. The challenge for a theatrical staging is to capture the feelings of the songs without overwhelming them. Mr. Edelstein's production succeeds with that challenge admirably. Neil Patel's scenic design is deceptively simple, but it provides a backdrop for visualizing what is going on for Alice. Sven Ortel's projections provide the visualizations (and are based on specific locations in Stratford, Ontario, where Ms. Johnson was raised). The projections also complement nicely Japhy Weideman's elegant lighting design. Linda Cho's costumes, Ken Travis' sound design, and Ann Yee's choreography each make effective, while lower-key, contributions. Music director Chris Kong fronts a six-piece ensemble that proves to be an essential collaborator for the singers.
Ms. Hearn embodies Alice's constantly shifting thoughts and feelings. Mr. Dean, who appears throughout, is a strong singer, which provides contrast to the otherwise all-woman cast. Ms. Maltby and Ms. Marcus contribute sharp cameos, and Ms. Parris gets the best effect in the show when she fulfills her promise to paint the wall. The three muses are a versatile hoot. If you cryand you mightit may start when Ms. Williamson sings "Moving."
Full of humor, large of heart, Life After is ultimately life-affirming.
Life After, through April 28, 2019, at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. Performances are Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 619-23-GLOBE [234-5623], or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.