Afterlife: A Ghost Story is a tale of irreconcilable grief. The Victoria College Drama Society performed their adaptation of Steve Yockey’s 2013 novel last week. The story conveys the grief experienced by Danielle (Olivia Nicoloff) and her husband Connor (Isaac Lloyd). Director Emma Keil-Vine shares her experience with the play in the Director’s Note. She recalls “a sigh, an inaudible sigh” from the cast when they did their first read-through. Keil-Vine asks, “Is it possible to convey a sigh?” She hoped that by the end of the play, the audience would find the sigh—which we definitely did.
In Act I, Danielle and Connor return to their home for the first time after the death of their son to prepare for an impending storm. Danielle’s grief, however, is unbearable; she can hear her son in the thunder, in the wind, and in the ocean. Connor, however, claims he has reconciled his grief by writing his son a letter. He throws the letter in the ocean, where his son was lost. Danielle is enraged that Connor has managed to “forget” their son, simply by writing a letter. Constant tension between the couple gives insight into the transformative power of human pain and mourning. Connor is unable to save his wife from the ocean of grief she—literally—drowns herself in. Her death encapsulates a raw depiction of the depth and vastness of mourning, and portrays the complexity of pain—both as a collective experience and an isolating one. Danielle eloquently expresses this feeling of helplessness and extreme isolation when it comes to mourning: “It feels like it would be easier to just give in than keep overcoming the pain of every beat […] Even with Connor, I’m alone.”
The play relies heavily on symbolism, such as the dead fish that the couple finds on the shore upon their return home. The stage was, of course, dimly lit to mirror the haunting mood. The living room set was very minimalistic, with a couch, a table, and an almost empty shelf.
The ocean itself acts a main character, as it is the place where Daniella and Connor’s son dies. In the final scene of Act I, Danielle is angry at the ocean and blames it for taking her son away: “We lived next to you for years and you just couldn’t resist […] He was a beautiful boy, and you wanted him.” In this quote, Danielle personifies the ocean, supporting its role as a character.
The ocean appears in Act 2 in the form of a Proprietress (Jocelyn Kraynyk), reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter, with whom Danielle is trapped, along with a seamstress (Katerina Hatzinakos). Act 2 is divided into three distinct settings of the afterlife. This act seems to pose more existentialist questions that echo Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, like, “What are you waiting for?” and “Where would you go if you could?” The more questions raised, the more we see a lost sense of purpose. This act seems to be an entire play of its own that draws heavily on symbolism. The boy (William Dao) is trapped on some kind of island with empty photo frames behind him. He keeps sending letters to his parents that the postman (Shay Santaiti) never delivers. Connor is also taken hostage and blindfolded by a giant blackbird (Kenzie Tsang) in a snowy forest, which seemed to represent the repression of his anguish, which he is never able to confront.
The characters are trapped in their own spheres in the afterlife, which does not seem to be any better than when they were alive. The play ends ambiguously, without a definite resolution to the situation, but perhaps hinting at a step towards reconciliation. The vibrant tone and the imagery of the play haunts the audience, but not in the traditional sense. Afterlife: A Ghost Story creates a feeling of horror that comes from being trapped within—the type of horror that comes with a sigh.
Afterlife: A Ghost Story ran from January 26 to 28 at the Cat’s Eye Student Pub and Lounge.