Written and directed by Luis Ibar, After Everything, the first production in the CASA Latin American Theatre Festival, is set in a contemporary but nightmareish Mexico City.
You might be mistaken for thinking that the combined topics of love, life and infanticide would leave no room for comedy but you’d be wrong. Ibar’s play leaves you space to chuckle despite some moments of real darkness.
Based on the legend of the Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess, who bathed in the blood of her victims to maintain her youth, Ibar’s heroine Cecilia (Kirsten Hazel Smith) has also been on a quest for immortality.
At the very beginning she is in prison discussing her loneliness with her husband Max (Rob Carragher). She feels she has lost a part of herself. The harsh implications of her thoughts become clearer. She has killed her child. She doesn’t offer an explanation despite an interrogation and instead hallucinates to escape. Through these surreal lapses the play unfolds. Cecilia II (Laura Brauer), representing the dualism of the character is simultaneously onstage and the balance between the meanings of love and hate becomes the blurry battleground for mother and father.
The message that there is no cure for pain and suffering becomes ever stronger. Max and Cecilia turn to cosmetics and medicine as solutions to their ageing and lack of identification. But a doctor played with malevolent charm by Gwilym Lloyd is also a Faustian demon called Mirage. He offers false comfort and friendship and tempts Max to give up his soul if he finds the perfect moment. Carragher is diffident and earnest as Max that he sometimes appears too feeble to carry such epic themes but he successfully upholds the tension throughout.
Smith is whimsical and lecherously lists the ingredients to her beauty regime while worrying over Cecilia II’s corpse. The whiff of a mission to belittle globalization and disparage Western ideals is in the air. But Ibar laughs, at us and with us. In examining our social narcissism Ibar exposes the fear that we are losing our senses in an increasingly materialistic world.
The show has been adapted to fit the four rooms of the Crypt of St Andrews Church in Holborn and as we shift from space to space Ibar’s use of dj vu becomes more significant. Speeches overlap and repeat themselves building the salient themes without desperation or redundancy.
However, the performances remain refreshingly spontaneous. It is possible to identify with both Max and Cecilia, to feel an empathetic pang as they are ensnared in the consequences of their own neglect, without entirely liking either one.
What happens on their journeys is much more interesting than the realizations of life and death. Ibar’s play is a rich tapestry of modern faiths, Faust and feminine power. He appreciates and celebrates a nihilistic life with a deft touch. Who would assume that the gloom of random, meaningless existence would be such fun? A work like this should be no laughing matter and is a great opening to this intriguing festival.