Without warning, the audience is plunged into darkness. So beings AFTER, created by the OBIE-winning Andrew Schneider in collaboration with Alessandra Calabi, Bobby McElver, and Alicia ayo Ohs. For AFTER, the creative team set out to make the truest blackout it could, and it succeeds to an extent that feels impossible in typical American, glowing-exit-sign-riddled theaters. Darkness recurs throughout the show’s 80 minutes. Sitting for so long in a darkness so complete that even the people whose coats you feel touching you disappear, your mind starts to play tricks on you: Is that a glimmer of a light source? Was that the hint of a body moving? Is that a sound, or did I imagine it?
AFTER intentionally manipulates the senses in this way, suppressing visual stimuli to play with perception. During the darkness, things and people appear and disappear onstage so fast that when the lights do come up, it seems magical. The sound design, by McElver, adds another layer of magic, relying on repeated bits of the song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and an array of 3D sonic feats. Text by Schneider in the form of long monologues and mini-scenes often touch on themes of death and breath and–very apt for the current weather–hypothermia. Are these snippets, which range from a rave full of people to a single plastic bag blowing across the stage alone, the things that will flash before our eyes right before we die, and/or what might remain after? Very late in the show, Schneider says that there’s not going to be an explanation. And really, one isn’t necessary. The technical accomplishments and sensory wizardry of AFTER ensure a personal experience that allows for each audience member to make “sense” of it all on their own terms.
Photo: Maria Baranova-Suzuki