Branden Gliebe, Cheri Anne Receveur, & Avery Wilson in Thereafter. Photo:IUS
By Daniel J. Barrett
Directed by Nykayla Whitt
Original music by Luke Spine
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
This review is taken from a preview performance with a limited audience.
Death, loss, and grief are sturdy, evergreen topics for drama. In his program notes, playwright Daniel J. Barrett points out the commonality of loss, but there is also the mystery of what if anything happens when someone leaves their mortal coil.
Barrett doesn’t address that question in religious terms but he does use it as a device of sorts in this world premiere play, Thereafter. Shawn (Branden Gliebe) sleeps on a couch in his brother’s house. Jeremy (Azzam Azzam) is younger but he has been taking care of Shawn for a year since Shawn’s fiance Anna (Cheri Anne Receveur) died.
Jeremy lives with his girlfriend Liz (Avery Wilson) and when circumstances lead them to move to NYC she believes it is time to push Shawn out of his grief. But she underestimates the depth of Shawn’s trauma because he receives regular visits from Anna.
Whether Anna is a ghost or a creation of Shawn’s troubled mind is a tantalizing question, but Barrett is intent on exploring repression as one all too common response to grief. A backstory about the brothers’ mother dying 15 years earlier and their father’s reaction illustrates this theme as well. Suppressing emotions is easy but damaging and the pattern gets passed down through the generations.
Barrett writes with a feeling for the rhythm of dialogue and meaty emotional exchanges, and his exploration of these themes is thoughtful if sometimes overearnest. There is some redundancy in later scenes and it may be authentic human behavior but it undermines the drama a bit. In the opening scenes and in a few instances later on, he and director Nykayla Whitt use a lot of sound design, music, and lighting effects to stage nightmares that plague Shawn and they have a nice haunted house quality that does seem in conflict with the tone adopted during most of the running time but they ground our understanding of Shawn’s pain.
That original music (by Luke Spine) is inventive and spare, although it does feel intrusive and even distracting when it cues in during a crucial monologue near the end. I also felt the final scene was unnecessary. Barret should have confidence that his text and the performance have already communicated these ideas to the audience and resisted the impulse to state them so unequivocably.
Branden Gliebe is raw and vulnerable as Shawn, a character whose trauma has arrested his life and development as a person. It’s a strong central performance and crucial to the play. Avery Wilson’s Liz is also complex and Wilson fleshes her out with feeling. Azzam Azzam and Cheri Anne Receveur both find it difficult to relax into their roles, but the stilted quality of their delivery starts to fall away as the play progresses and Azzam rises more to the occasion in his later scenes with Gliebe.
But it must be said that this was in a preview with a scant audience and interaction with a full crowd is the final ingredient in the crafting of an actor’s performance.
I liked Myles Bond’s set and the way that black and white squares on the stage echo how frequently the characters play chess, and Mr. Barrett also handles the lighting design, which was effective with just one or two instances where a cue felt in some subtle way misplaced.
Thereafter meets Barrett’s stated mission. Death and grief have always been a struggle in Western cultures, and the story here is unfortunately easy to identify with. We can see ourselves in Shawn, Jeremy, and Liz, who all have different relationships to the truth of the circumstance.
Featuring Azzam Azzam, Branden Gliebe, Cheri Anne Receveur, & Avery Wilson
April 14, 15 @ 7:00 pm
April 16 @ 2:30 PM
IUS Theatre Department
The Ogle Center
4201 Grant Line Road
New Albany, Indiana 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.