The Undertaking – Death Warmed Over

Steve (ostensibly a filmmaker or playwright) is interviewing Lydia (possibly a conceptual artist) about death and near death experience. “The earliest play we have by Aeschylus has a ghost…” Everyone wants to know about death and what comes after.

Lydia is one of many subjects. Steve is particularly interested in her recent experience – imbibing what Brazilian natives call “the vine of death” during a shamanic ritual. She barely touches on it, however, before turning the tables and questioning what he’s discovered thus far. “I think it’s important that the thing being looked at looks back at you.” What?

Afraid of death, Steve nonetheless never imagines his own. Lydia is at peace with becoming one with the universe. The actors play numerous interviewees – utilizing an impressive roster of accents and voices – each beginning with a taped voice from which he/she takes over live. Steve Cosson’s script apparently evolved from actual recorded interviews. There’s a cancer patient given psilocybin, a British philosopher, the HIV surviving partner of playwright/actor Charles Ludlam.

We ricochet back and forth from “real time” dialogue to various previous encounters. In between, scenes from Jean Cocteau’s iconic 1950 film Orphée – a modern day retelling of the Orpheus myth – is shown and/or discussed. Lydia and Steve even – kind of – attempt to descend into and return from the underworld. (Love the animal skin rugs in which they drape themselves.) Personal opinions enter into the equation.

The “play” has no arc. We barely get a sense of and hardly care about Lydia and Steve. It’s as if the interviews were put into a hat, randomly chosen, and interjected. While subject matter is fascinating, little we hear is more than cliché, its delivery confusing.

Both actors are multifaceted and well focused. I wish them better characters.

The author’s direction is – ok. Interview subjects are well differentiated.

Tal Yarden’s Projection design is half greatly enhancing and half simply odd – colored abstract shapes appear to stand-in for missing images too often.

Photography by Carol Rosegg

The Civilians present
The Undertaking
Written and Directed by Steve Cosson
Conceived in Collaboration with Jessica Mitrani
Featuring Aysan Celik and Dan Domingues
59E59 Theaters
Through February 4, 2018

About Alix Cohen (1169 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.