What is love? ‘The Afterparty’ looks at how art and science influence our deepest questions

When the universe ends, is it also the end of love? Is being taken up into the stars by the gods a reward or a punishment? How do science, poetry and the cosmos interweave meaningfully in human lives?

These are the questions raised by playwright Reina Hardy in the world premiere of “The Afterparty,” produced by Shrewd Productions and playing through June 30th at the Vortex.

“The Afterparty” is a mixture of science fiction, magical realism and memory play, told through the eyes of Claire, a poet whose favorite topics include the stars, science and mythology. She ruminates over her long-dead first love, a young boy named Devon, before being taken into the stars for a semi-mystical party where historical figures Aristophanes, Johannes Kepler and Henrietta Swan Leavitt greet her.

The text mixes poetry, comedy and surrealism to explore the ways in which human narratives interweave science and mythology in order to come to a greater understanding of the human condition, particularly the most mysterious part of that condition: love. The layered investigation of these issues is interesting and nuanced, but at times Hardy exchanges the exploration of her metaphors for grounded character interactions, creating a narrative that is told to us as much as it is shown. In addition, the story starts off rather slow and runs somewhat longer than a play focused more on ideas than on characters can sustain.

Where Hardy excels, however, is at creating moments in the text for visual and physical exploration, which director Liz Fisher choreographs beautifully. Ann Marie Gordon’s set, Patrick Anthony’s lights, Nick Hart’s music and sound design and Andrew McIntyre’s projections all combine organically to create an atmospheric space that truly feels cosmic at times. The relatively small black box theater of the Vortex becomes infinite and expansive thanks to the clockwork synchronicity of these technical elements.

“The Afterparty” also sports a talented cast, headed by Shannon Grounds as Claire. Grounds is able to sell both the poetic and comedic sides of the character, particularly when playing off Ja’Michael Darnell’s lovably innocent portrayal of Devon. As Aristophanes, Kepler and Leavitt, respectively, Rommel Sulit, Trey Deason and Valoneecia Tolbert bring vivacious life to the second act, imbuing it with a comic zing that is somewhat lacking in the first half.

Though uneven in places, “The Afterparty” is an aesthetically pleasing exploration of the overlap between art and science that poetically focuses on the cosmic questions we ask when we look up at the stars.

“THE AFTERPARTY”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through June 30
Where: The Vortex, 2307 Manor Road
Cost: $15-$35
Information: vortexrep.org


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