Following their sold-out run at the 2016 BAM Next Wave Festival, The Civilians' playful and idiosyncratic take on the classical trip to the land of the dead comes to 59E59. More…
Drawing on The Civilians' multi-year exploration and myriad conversations with shamans, morticians, and hospice workers, two actors portray a constellation of quirky characters to dive headlong into the anxieties and mysteries of mortality. This play takes the idea of the recorded interview and pushes it into surprising (and personal) new places.
“There's no other show like it. The two-hander explores matters that people must confront in a totally inventive way...Both Domingues and Celik make seamless character transitions that bring fascinating perspectives to the show...’The Undertaking’ presents the subject of mortality in an informative and even entertaining manner. It takes a topic that people are often hesitant to deal with and makes it entirely approachable. This is a show that should be experienced.” Full Review
"Jordan: It’s amazing how funny and light this play can be sometimes...Ran: Steve and Lydia have a very endearing way of talking about death, suffering, and fear...Jordan: These are two really strong performances...Ran: One of the most effective multimedia uses I’ve seen in a while...Ran: I was skeptical because the show tackles the subject, death, in a very intellectual way...Jordan: The intellectual elements are often quite satisfying though." Full Review
"The show is about confronting death, and it is both absorbingly universal and unusually personal. Two versatile actors, Dan Domingues and Aysan Celik, portray several people interviewed for the project...But mostly they play Cosson and his friend Lydia, a Brazilian artist who offers to be his guide into the underworld...Cosson braves looking confused and even faintly ridiculous. But that, the play suggests, is the price of engagement. The fog on the mirror is a sign of life." Full Review
"Cosson's quirky, thought-provoking play is an amalgam of intelligent dialogue, Greek mythology, superstition, philosophy, and excerpts of the stories of real people...But really, the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts...A frank and compelling confrontation of death...Not for the faint of heart. It's erudite and it's chuckle-worthy; at times it's too much, and other times it leaves you wanting more." Full Review
"A fascinating dialogue whose characters, sounds, and immersive imagery further develop our relationship with death. If you're a big fan of Richard Linklater dialogue, then this production is guaranteed to captivate...'The Undertaking' holds less immediate dramatic tension than most plays...Cosson has created a new, accessible dramatized symposium on death. Those fortunate enough to see 'The Undertaking,' may find something necessary to accept death as an inevitable part of life." Full Review
"Two performers, portraying multiple characters, enact real-life interviews centered on the act of dying...All the while, the production comments upon itself and divulges its own techniques. Death may be the subject of this play, but its theme is creation...That the interviewer would become his own subject was inevitable from the moment Lydia began drawing him in, but it also speaks to the fact that his other subjects are intriguing at first, then lose their luster." Full Review
“An ambitious piece...Drawn from personal interviews, ‘The Undertaking’ is a seriocomic, overly diffuse eighty-minute effort that mixes the voices of more than half a dozen people...Although ‘The Undertaking’ disappoints in these terms of meaningfulness, the actors’ chatty aplomb and the smooth production values offer an unexpectedly pleasant glance into the valley of the shadows.” Full Review
“At best, modestly successful...For rather too much of the time, however, these stimulating folks are preempted by Steve and Lydia and their seemingly endless talk about what it all means to them...Far from a disaster-- the actors are too skillful, the supporting characters too engaging...Still, it drags...Next to the company's better efforts, 'The Undertaking' comes off as a rather thin exercise diluted by excessive navel-gazing." Full Review
“The ‘play’ has no arc. We barely get a sense of and hardly care about Lydia and Steve. It’s as if the interviews were put into a hat, randomly chosen, and interjected. While subject matter is fascinating, little we hear is more than cliché, its delivery confusing. Both actors are multifaceted and well focused. I wish them better characters. The author’s direction is – ok. Interview subjects are well differentiated. Tal Yarden’s Projection design is half greatly enhancing and half simply odd." Full Review
"A mere 80 minutes in duration, with well-paced dialogue between the principal characters and arresting interpolations from the playwright's field research. But the enterprise goes off the rails in its final third. he playwright's attempt to explore the nature of death is defeated by the fact that, as Marvell says, the grave's a fine and private place, inaccessible to the living...The final segment of the play begins as a charming conceit but quickly runs out of steam.” Full Review
"'These interviews are neither diverse nor digested, resulting in a show that feels both thin and unenlightening...Feels more self-involved than bravely personal. The fact that Cosson's fear derives from no immediate health concern only serves to lower the stakes...Thankfully, Cosson includes other voices in the show...Their stories and observations give the piece some much-needed outside perspective, but the interviews feel less contextualized than they could be." Full Review
“Domingues and Celik are both fine actors...But the work overall is too trapped in the real Steve Cosson's vision...The play would be better served by expanding on the use of the interviews to more deeply examine the complex issues surrounding death and dying, or by digging more into the psychological profile of the character of Steve. As it stands, both components are frustratingly underdeveloped...The production lacks a much-needed cohesiveness and unnecessarily obscures its subject matter." Full Review
“Grim as its subject is, some room is found for laughter in this earnest but soporific work. Domingues and Celik…do their best to keep Cosson's morbidities alive, but nothing expressed is at all original or provocative. Nor are the random bits and pieces well enough integrated to provide a cohesive response to Steve's problems…There's little about Steve and Lydia to make us care about them, the people whose words they speak are abstractions, and dramatic tension is notably absent.” Full Review
“An underwhelming undertaking...Memorable tidbits scattered throughout...The journey they take involves lots of projected stills...the two performers wearing animal skins and hiding under the couch, and wearing masks, and video projections of their masked faces. I wish I knew if there was more to it than that– that it wasn’t just an odd and uncharacteristic lapse into self-indulgence — but I was put to sleep." Full Review
“Dull, smug and interminable...80-minute hodgepodge...Physical staging ranges from sedate to overdrive, with the actors incited to be manic. The ending, however, does have an affirmative simplicity...A slew of quirky snippets lacking depth and focus. These combined with the busy presentation all make for a slog...If it were performed at a museum, ‘The Undertaking’ would be the sort of thing one could inquisitively watch for a while and then leave to look at something else.” Full Review
for a previous production "The Civilians’ stunning new investigative work on various people's understandings, as well as experiences, of death...'The Undertaking' pulled at the pit of my stomach as it carried out its explorations of a subject of extraordinary depth with surprising lightness. As this investigation of death brings us such new respect for life, 'The Undertaking' reveals Cosson's most honest and unyielding sincerity, his admission of fear, and his (and our) realization that we are not alone." Full Review
for a previous production "Morbidly funny, and sometimes just plain morbid, the show is constructed like many Civilians productions, as a collage of testimonials drawn from interviews with real people...Particularly engaging are insights from the British philosopher Simon Critchley, who has written about various philosophers’ deaths...Domingues is charming as Steve, the chatty, neurotic, creative gay man that one imagines every New Yorker probably knows." Full Review
for a previous production "Moving as Cosson's fears may be, they make for a saggy play, even at just 80 minutes...Cosson interrupts the main story with short segments of testimony...What they offer is mostly elementary deathology, producing approximately the same insight as that achieved by reading the first page of 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead' in a college dorm, stoned...Its meaningfulness, merely stated and discussed but not dramatized, doesn’t carry." Full Review
for a previous production "Rather desperate after so many hours of interviews, in the absence of any findings, you finally engage in a bit of pantomime to simulate the voyage to the mythical underworld. Unfortunately for those of us in the audience, Cosson doesn’t uncover much more, or at least not about death...Glimpses of authenticity are too infrequent and are quickly smoothed over when the storyline resumes...I was too intent on finding something bigger than the sum of its parts. My loss." Full Review
See it if you like experimental theater, or are deeply interested in how societies & individuals confront death.
Don't see it if you have little appetite for experiment in the theater, or if looking at death makes you squeamish.
See it if You’d like to confront your death anxiety and like documentary style or intellectualized plays
Don't see it if You need a story, an emotional connection with the characters and are avoidant of thinking about death
See it if Great acting and use of voice. Creative use of technology. Thoughtful portions
Don't see it if You are put off by unpleasant descriptions of accidents or embalming; Good ideas repeated more than necessary
See it if You are a Civilian completist. A new slant on their well researched works, this one is a bit sleepy (or I was) in its investigation of death
Don't see it if You want a play, not a folksy report on views of death, passing over, and whether there is something after.
See it if you want a play about mortality based on real interviews - embalmer, philosopher, woman with cancer, someone who lost friends to Aids
Don't see it if the two actors act out the roles of the various interviewees with varying degrees of success - more in the very beginning and the rest drags
See it if You like innovative staging and good acting, regardless of content.
Don't see it if you won't spend 2 hours (no intermission) with 2 boring persons and phrases like "existential angst" and "fear of death is fear of life".
See it if you want to see some excellent projections designed by Tal Yarden.
Don't see it if you enjoy plays with character development, an arc, and a plot. Don't go if you feel tired—the slow pacing will be sleep inducing.
See it if You're looking to get in out of the rain and your dentist is booked.
Don't see it if You enjoy well-written, well-directed and well-acted plays (though I feel sorry for the actors who signed up for this mess).
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