October 20, 2017 Radomir Vojtech Luza

Afterlife: a ghost story

If you are interested in a play about a fragile yet loving couple thrust into another dimension, look no further than the Collaborative Artists Ensemble production of “afterlife: a ghost story” by Steve Yockey playing at the Avery Schreiber Playhouse in the No Ho Arts District through November 12th. This is the story of Connor and Danielle, a couple with a horrible secret that threatens to unravel the spiritual and psychological foundation that they have built for themselves. Truly, it is sometimes harder to remember than live. The language alone in this beautifully crafted play soothes personal storms and professional divisions as it is nothing less than music for the ears.

If you are interested in a play about a fragile yet loving couple thrust into another dimension, look no further than the Collaborative Artists Ensemble production of “afterlife: a ghost story” by Steve Yockey playing at the Avery Schreiber Playhouse in the No Ho Arts District through November 12th. This is the story of Connor and Danielle, a couple with a horrible secret that threatens to unravel the spiritual and psychological foundation that they have built for themselves. Truly, it is sometimes harder to remember than live. The language alone in this beautifully crafted play soothes personal storms and professional divisions as it is nothing less than music for the ears.

Both Amadeus Mozart and the late Tom Petty would be celebrating. The words communicate and collaborate with the action on stage without taking anything away from it. The syllables and syntax never lose their intensity or punch from the more realistic First Act to the metaphoric purgatory of Act Two. The direction by Steve Jarrard, who is also the company’s Managing Director, is alive and pregnant with activity and curiosity. The poet, actor and prop man understands talent and does not get in the way of his leading actors which in turn allows them to use their gifts more freely and fantastically.

The director of a number of the Ensemble’s plays such as the West Coast Premieres of Carson McCuller’s “The Square Root of Wonderful,” Nate Eppler’s “Long Way Down” and Don Nigro’s “Lost Generation” has directed at least half of the Ensemble’s 20 productions since 2008. Jarrard has assembled a gifted cast quite familiar with the uniqueness and heartfelt compassion of Yockey’s verbal landscape. Standouts include Meg Wallace (Danielle) who almost single handedly steals the play with another of what has become a string of remarkable portrayals in Ensemble productions. Here the founding member of the Ensemble gives a convincing, versatile and transparent turn. As the play’s lynchpin, the New York-trained actress uses every fiber of her being to convince us that she has made a success of herself 3,000 miles from her beginnings. And convince she does. But it is Joshua James Kingsley (Connor) who runs away with the show. The Shakespearian actor (Banquo in “Macbeth” and Sebastian in “Twelfth NIght”) gives a powerful performance complete with a electric stage presence and uncanny sensitivity.

The first time company actor comprehends his character with a maturity beyond his years and has us, the audience, glued to his every word in the stringent, snowy and scary Second Act. This is a turn not just for this production, but for the ages. This critic, for one, hopes to see the Tucson, AZ native and former student at the Elizabeth Mestnik and Howard Fine Acting Studios, frequent the stages of North Hollywood or Los Angeles again soon. Kingsley and Wallace compliment each other beautifully. Their spiritual, emotional and physical chemistry is something to behold and good news for us all because if they did not live parallel lives the play would have no legs, soul or heart to stand on. Furthering the message of the play are Jarrard’s production design, Ryan Lovett’s lighting design, Zahra Husein’s sound design and Tonya Richardson’s graphic design.

All in all, “afterlife: a ghost story” succeeds despite the bleak ghosts, birds, fish, voices and dark imagery and rises to the level of horror or mystery masterpiece with themes of a son taken by the ocean and a mother destroying her relationship with the son’s father by not allowing herself to get over the loss as painful as it may be. This haunting masterwork, which reminds of the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, is a step into another realm for the Ensemble as well. The technical constraints and wizardry in this play also far outshine any such effort in the history of the Ensemble so far. Collaborative Artists Ensemble proves once more by tackling this vital, unknown, under-produced and challenging work by Yockey that it takes its place; blood, sweat and tears dripping; among the elite group of American acting ensembles. The choice of material here shows that all is well at the Ensemble artistically, intellectually and historically. The company’s sails fluttering forever forward as fortune and success blow in the wind for the imaginative, humble and industrious few.

And so it goes in this case.

By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Theatre Critic/Writer

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20/Seniors and Students: $15
Information/Reservations: (323) 860-6569
WHERE: The Avery Schreiber Playhouse,
4934 Lankershim Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA 91601

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