TR Robertson — The visually stunning musical “Life After, currently on stage on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at the Old Globe Theatre, takes the audience thru a range of emotions as the story of a 16 year old girl and her family’s tragic loss leads her to search for the meaning and circumstances surrounding the death and an answer she never in her life expected. Canadian Playwright Britta Johnson is making her American debut with this moving play. She is the recipient of six prestigious Dora Mavor Moore Awards and the musical premiered in Canada in 2017.
In an interview in the “Performances Magazine”, Johnson indicated that she lost her father when she was 13, but the play is not autobiographical. Instead, she was interested, later in her life, of exploring the emotion of grief and the resulting emotions that arise. She felt writing a musical would allow her to best express herself and the story she wanted to tell. The result is a beautifully written, award winning play, produced for the first time in the United States at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. This moving, story explores how a young girl deals with the unexpected, tragic death of her father, the final time she met with her father and what happened between them leading to her personal search for answers. She is also dealing with her older domineering sister and a mother trying to cope with her husband’s death.
Portrait Photo by Sarah Stewart – Play Photos by Jeremy Daniel
All of this is shown through a moving score with gut wrenching lyrics, a cleverly designed set using minimal props, a series of movable panels covered in fabric where actors can be slightly seen, and a large screen backdrop where a variety of images appear to clearly show the audience more information on the location of the scene before them. A wonderful, dynamic orchestra, under the direction of Chris Kong and the music supervision and arrangements of Lynne Shankel, bring Playwright Britta Johnson’s music and lyrics to life as the mystery of the musical unfolds. Johnson has also cleverly placed in the play three young ladies, known as the Furies, who perform a variety of functions, most of which include acting as emotional guides and Alice’s conscience, summarizing each of the highs and lows of Alice’s experiences with an emotionally placed, “Wow!”.
The play surrounds 16 year old Alice Carter, played by Sophie Hearn. As with most teenagers, Alice’s world encompasses her friends, her school, her world, which also includes her family. Alice’s father, Frank, a self-help guru who travels around the country pitching, “control what you can, let go of the rest”, in seminars, has not been around very much, and when we meet him he has returned home for a quick turn-around visit to wish his daughter happy birthday and to take her to dinner. But on this night, an unreceptive Alice is wrapped up in her world and an argument breaks out and the final words Alice says to Frank are the heart-breaking words, “No one will notice you’re gone”. Frank leaves and the time 8:22 pm, the name Meadowvale and Route 33 will become significant clues to the mystery surrounding why Frank has a tragic car accident and dies on a snowy road in a small town outside of Ontario, Canada.
The lead role of Alice Carter is played by Sophie Hearn, a New York based actress making her debut at the Old Globe. Sophie is a recent graduate from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. Her performance as the conflicted, distraught teenager, searching for answers she might not want to know, stands-out with the angst anyone would go through in such a horrible situation. Her voice resonates throughout the play, especially in “Will I Grow” sung with the Furies and “Snow” sung with Frank.
Playing Alice’s father, Frank Carter, is Bradley Dean. Dean is also making his Old Globe debut and is a veteran Broadway performer as well as having performed in numerous theatres across the country. Dean’s booming voice echoes across the stage at times and at other times he shows love and tenderness when singing to his daughter. We especially feel sorry for Frank and his relationship with his daughter after their fight and Frank laments what happened as he foreshadows, “What a horrible way to say good-bye”. Frank’s wife, is played by Mamie Parris, also making her Old Globe debut. Mamie is both a theatre and television performer as well as an acting teacher and audition coach. As the mother, her anguish is seen as she deals with the funeral details, the behavior of her daughters and Alice’s search for more answers surrounding her father’s death. Her grief is significantly less emotional than either of her daughters as she tries to manage the circumstances of her husband’s sudden death.
Alice’s vegan older sister, Kate, is clearly frustrated with Alice’s teen attitude and Alice’s developing controversy around Frank’s death. As Kate, Charlotte Maltby, also making a Globe debut, tries to stem the growing tide of interest Alice has in why and how her father died. At times, she shows this by playing the overly concerned big sister with attitude who Alice finds difficult to deal with.
A bit of comic relief is provided by Alice’s high school friend, Hannah, played by Livvy Marcus, making her Globe debut. Hannah is a flighty, excitable young lady who tells Alice that she is the only friend she has, but she is indeed a true friend of Alice. Livvy brings a warmth and loving concern to her relationship with Alice. A central character to the musical is the soft spoken teacher Ms. Hopkins, played by Dan’Yelle Williamson. In a moment of clarity in the musical, Ms. Hopkins will remind Alice to “forgive yourself for the things you can’t control”. Williamson is a Broadway veteran and making her Old Globe debut.
The Furies are played by Ximone Rose, MacKenzie Warren and Charlotte Mary Wen. This three person female chorus moves in and out of the stage, acting as Alice’s conscious, delivering messages, proclamations and predictions.
“Life After” is directed by director, producer, author and educator Barry Edelstein. His Creative Team bringing this musical to life include Choreographer Ann Yee, Scenic Designer Neil Patel, Costume Designer Linda Cho, Lighting Designer Japhy Weideman, Sound Designer Ken Travis, Projection Designer Sven Ortel and Production Stage Manager Anjee Nero.
This highly emotional musical, beautifully performed with a smattering of humor is swimming with messages on dealing with pain, grief, loss, disappointment and a myriad of other situations that our lives are filled with. Britta Johnson’s “Life After” is a new look at how to theatrically present these messages. This is a musical everyone should experience, especially the ending of the musical.
“Life After” will be on the Old Globe Theatre’s Shiley Stage, located in Balboa Park, until April 28th. The musical is 90 minutes long with no intermission. Ticket prices range from $36 to $106, with some discounts available. Tickets can be purchased at www.theoldglobe.org or call 619-234-5623.