Martinson Hall, the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor P.
January 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, 14, $25
Andrew Schneider uses high and low tech to investigate what makes a life — and what might happen at death — in the mind-blowing After, having its New York City premiere as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival. The sequel to his mind-blowing, Obie-winning YOUARENOWHERE (which can be pronounced as “You are nowhere” or “You are now here”), After explores the construction of consciousness through perception and sensation, creating a kind of collective hallucination as two people, Schneider and Alicia ayo Ohs, discuss various aspects of existence amid flashing lights, electronic sounds, color shifts, near-complete extended darkness, and heavenly cloud cover. “Your brain is not reality,” ayo tells Schneider early on, calling into question what humans, and theater patrons, see and hear. The Milwaukee-born, Brooklyn-based Schneider wrote the text and directs the show in addition to handling the experimental lighting, projections, and set design, which essentially is a spare stage with a bright white floor; the lights quickly go on and off, joined by loud, sharp noises, as scenes change magically in mere seconds, reminiscent of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information and Nick Payne’s Constellations. At one point, Schneider and ayo will be sitting in folding chairs, then will be lying on the floor, then will be leaning over a desk, the changes coming like firing synapses. Later the two performers are joined by a larger cast, including production coordinator Kedian Keohan and scenic coordinator Peter Musante, but it’s the relationship between Schneider and ayo that is at the heart of the eighty-minute show.
Throughout, the sound emerges from all over the theater, as if it has physical form; sound designers Schneider and Bobby McElver, who refer to the effects as auditory holograms, are employing the cutting-edge spatial audio technology Wave Field Synthesis, which was developed at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer. The piece is deeply theoretical as well as being super-fun and thought-provoking, balancing serious philosophy with an intoxicating playfulness and razor-sharp sense of humor. As the audience enters Martinson Hall at the Public, Irma Thomas’s heart-tugging “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” softly repeats over and over, the Soul Queen of New Orleans singing, “I know / to ever let you go / oh, is more than I could ever stand”; but the mood shifts when that is replaced by Starship’s tacky, and loud, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” as Mickey Thomas (no relation) and Grace Slick warble, “And we can build this dream together / standing strong forever.” Former Wooster Group member Schneider (Field, Tidal, Wow+Flutter) and assistant director and script developer ayo (Faye Driscoll’s Thank You for Coming series), dressed in dark clothing and wearing microphones as well as electronic gadgets on each of their arms, don’t miss a beat as After delves into the nature of language and movement, of speech and human behavior, putting the audience through sensory overload and sensory deprivation to imagine the biochemical secrets of life and death.