You Don’t Know Because You Don’t Know
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: The November Theatre, 114 West Broad Street, RVA 23220
Performances: March 3 – 26, 2023
Ticket Prices: $39-$59. (Discounted group rates and rush tickets available)
Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org
If you’re looking for something traditional and familiar, this ain’t it! If, on the other hand, you’re in the mood for something daringly different and astonishingly beautiful, then you’ve found your play. In Bo Wilson’s new sci-fi thriller fantasy, AFTER DECEMBER, particle collider meets poet. It’s big bang theory meets magic mushrooms. It’s fabulously refreshing. And, if you must relate it to something familiar, it makes allegorical statements about such topics as government and discrimination and the relative value of art versus science.
AFTER DECEMBER is an immersive theatrical experience. Set in a secret government facility that conducts experiments with particle reactors, the cave-like underground atmosphere created by Tennessee Dixon (Scenic and Projection Designer) extends from the stage to the audience. BJ Wilkinson’s phenomenal lighting includes tubes of lighting around the balcony and even above the very last rows of seats, and Dixon’s multi-screen projections accompanied by Joey Luck’s sound design virtually surround the audience. Dixon has really outdone herself yet all of this technology does not diminish Wilson’s story or the words, rather it enhances the play. (I’m almost certain that if Dixon had figured out a way to make us feel the earthquake tremors it would have been done.)
The function of this facility is so secretive that even the staff can’t explain what they do. So, a malfunction in the particle collider machinery precipitates a major crisis, resulting in a temporary shutdown, but even more concerning is the sudden appearance of a mysterious woman. She doesn’t remember anything other than her name, December, and that she is a poet. How she ended up, naked, in a secret government facility two miles underground is a bit of a problem for her and the manager of the facility, Evan Garth (Jeffrey Cole) and his Machiavellian superior, Maria Staslaw (Susan Sanford).
Bianca Bryan, as the mysterious December, speaks in an oddly cadenced almost robotic voice, The imperious voice, stiff posture, and sometimes flaccid stance with both arms hanging loosely at the sides, interrupted occasionally by a lotus petal hand gesture all support the proposition that December may be something less than – or more than – human. She does, after all, appear to have superpowers, not the least of which is that when she speaks her poems aloud, they “happen” – changes occur in the physical environment and in the people around her. As disturbing as her presence may be, it also seems to be an impetus for the physicists to explore their hidden creative sides.
The facility’s Physician’s Assistant, Christine Keeler (Patricia Austin) is the first to soften, seeming to find inspiration in December’s differentness. Next to develop a relationship with December is Garth; December seems to bring out repressed feelings and memories that bring balance to his scientific mind. Nat Carroll (Andrew Firda) wasn’t as hard a nut to crack; he was already starting to write a novel when we first meet him. His partner, Marten Root (Andrew Etheridge) is all about the business of math until he hears the poem December has created specifically for him. He then reveals unmined depths of emotion. The only one who seems unchanged by December is Staslaw (Sanford). Could it be that she knows more about this than she lets on?
One can only imagine the creative and collaborative process that occurred between director Rick Hammerly, designers Tennessee Dixon, BJ Wilkinson, and Joey Luck, and the cast members. Precise timing was needed to successfully execute the wrinkles in time and other effects. The result was one of the most amazing and delightfully surprising evenings I’ve spent in the theater – ever.
Kudos to the cast and design team – including Sue Griffin for her neutral tunics that straddled the line between primitive and futuristic and provided a blank palate for the colorful lighting effects. Etheridge and Firda provided most of the comedy, with Etheridge acting as straight man to Firda’s more lighthearted role. Bryan was a powerful presence who nonetheless elicited empathy which was freely offered by the characters played by Austin and Coles. Susan Sanford remained unmoved – unless you count a downward spiral with a singularly cruel act towards Etheridge’s gentle nerd.
Is the important stuff that matters what happens after December arrives, or after December leaves? Or is the important stuff that matters in the power of December’s (i.e., Wilson’s) words? See it and decide for yourself – I’d love to hear what you think about AFTER DECEMBER.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
A New Play By Bo Wilson
Directed by Rick Hammerly
Christine Keeler ……………….. Patricia Austin
December ………………………… Bianca Bryan
Evan Garth ……………………… Jeffrey Cole
Marten Root ……………………. Andrew Etheredge
Nat Carroll (Evan Garth u/s) Andrew Firda
Nat Carroll u/s …………………. Joshua Mullins
Maria Staslaw …………………. Susan Sanford
Direction & Design
Direction …………………………. Rick Hammerly
Scenic & Projection Design.. Tennessee Dixon
Costume Design ………………. Sue Griffin
Lighting Design ………………… BJ Wilkinson
Sound Design ………………….. Joey Luck
Stage Management….……….. Justin Janke
Assistant Stage Managers … MariaElisa Costa, Leica Long
Box Office: (804) 282-2620
Tickets range from $39 – $59
Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets are available.
The play runs 1 hour 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets available.
Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten
VA-REP Covid Safety Statement
Virginia Rep encourages wearing masks for our patrons’ safety, but we do not require that you wear a mask in our lobbies or within the theatres. They are now optional.
We continue to follow CDC guidelines and local risk levels. All Virginia Rep staff will continue to wear masks while serving you.
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