There's a hurricane, but it's not Katrina. Steve Yockey's Afterlife: A Ghost Story — currently receiving a premiere production at Southern Rep — is more imaginative and weird than any art I've seen inspired by our own brush with disaster.
The first act is played out between a young married couple, Connor (Michael Aaron Santos) and Danielle (Lucy Faust). They've just returned to their beachfront cottage to secure it against a looming storm. But there's an underlying tension between them, and they can barely tolerate each other's presence. Some horrible, tormenting secret lurks, symbolized by the number of dead fish strewn on the beach or the ungainly black birds that have descended to feed on them. It turns out the vast, turbulent ocean has swallowed the couple's 3-year-old son. Danielle hates the "hungry beast of an ocean" for taking her boy, and she curses it.
Connor claims he has come to terms with the loss by writing a letter to the boy and throwing it into the ocean. Danielle is enraged that he claims to have accepted the loss. Certain she's heard her son's voice, she swims out into the surf to find him, but Connor rescues her.
Act 1 draws to a close as an exceptionally well-done two-character drama — part realism, part expressionism. The second act is entirely different. It revisits the first act's themes in a symbolic manner — part Beckett and part Lewis Carroll (if he'd written for psychopaths instead of children).
The stage is split into three abstract locations. In one, a young man (Andrew Farrier) abandoned on an island, writes letters to his parents, apologizing for not coming home. A postman (John Neisler) arrives and takes the young man's letters. On a second platform, we see Connor and a visiting black bird (John Neisler again). The third platform is a kind of teahouse hosted by a proprietress (Troi Bechet) with a seamstress (Lisa Picone) at her side. Danielle arrives, and the proprietress welcomes her and makes some tea, but that may be all the comfort Danielle will find.
Afterlife is a dark postmodern puzzle. Director Aimee Hayes assembled an excellent cast and brought the play vibrantly to life. It's well worth a visit. — Dalt Wonk
Through Nov. 7
Afterlife: A Ghost Story
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.
Southern Rep, The Shops at Canal Place, 365 Canal St., third floor, 522-6545; www.southernrep.com