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Stage Fright 

Afterlife: A Ghost Story

8 p.m. Thu.-Fri. (previews); 8 p.m. Sat. (opening night); 3 p.m. Sun.; through Nov. 7

Southern Rep, 333 Canal St., third floor, 522-6545; www.southernrep.com

Tickets $29-$35 , $20 previews, $85 opening night

click to enlarge Lucy Faust and Michael Aaron Santos star in Afterlife: A Ghost Story - PHOTO BY JOHN BARROIS

Talking via cell phone from Los Angeles in a break between pitch meetings for TV pilots and series, newly transplanted playwright Steve Yockey stresses one of the advantages of theater.

  "When things are inherently theatrical, they belong on stage," he says. "The stage has limitless imagination. You suggest something and the people in the audience create it in their own mind. In theater, it's about what you don't see. Horror is that way."

  His play Afterlife: A Ghost Story, which gets its world premiere this week at Southern Rep, is not a horror tale, but it is a ghost story, and its mix of grief and fright is uncommon in theater. Yockey's plays have garnered attention for some of their unconventional and untamed qualities.

  "I remember at NYU, Elizabeth Diggs pounding on the table, saying 'Don't write what you think people want to see,'" he says. "That's why I wrote a play [Octopus] that requires hundreds of gallons of water pouring on stage. I think that's why it's been published and produced around the country. You want to take advantage of the excitement of theatricality."

  Yockey started Afterlife while pursuing a master's in fine arts at NYU. He took it to a workshop at the Kennedy Center in 2008, where he met Aimee Hayes, artistic director of Southern Rep, who started to champion the play. Yockey wasn't happy with the reading and was going to shelve it and focus on other projects, but Hayes started an extended conversation about the script and later went to a reading of it in New York. Eventually, she invited Yockey to bring it to New Orleans, and it went through another workshop in Southern Rep's New Play Bacchanal in January, complete with a life-size blackbird puppet. In the middle of the workshop, Hayes committed to staging its first full production.

  In Afterlife, a married couple prepare their coastal home for the arrival of a looming storm, and the work opens up as they confront grief, loss and the supernatural.

  "It's somewhere between American psychodrama and Japanese horror," Hayes says.

  "Beyond being a ghost story, there's this weird thing," Yockey says. "If you're grieving over a loss, there's a big hardcover book on the shelf at Borders that tells you how to do it. But if you have an explanation that says what normal people do, it kind of sets a trap. That takes an additional toll. ... I was interested in exploring the slow burn of a ghost story and exploring grief in a way that hadn't been seen before."

  After Southern Rep, the play will be staged at New Rep in Boston and the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, Calif., as part of the National New Play Network's rolling premiere program. It also will be published.

  Yockey will attend the opening and also work with friend and playwright Ross Maxwell on GoodNight, a series of vignettes they co-wrote for Hayes that will be staged at Southern Rep at Le Chat Noir on Oct. 29-30, along with a monologue by Jim Fitzmorris.

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