Ends Feb 04

The Undertaking

Members say: Disappointing, Excruciating, Slow, Sleep-inducing, Dull
12 reviews
2 reviews

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.

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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.


Cast & Creatives (10)

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Reviews (14)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score


“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

Lighting & Sound America

“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

New York Theater

“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

Talkin' Broadway

“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

Woman Around Town

“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

Village Voice

“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

The New York Times

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

New York Magazine / Vulture

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

Theatre is Easy

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

Exeunt Magazine

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: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

Banal, Disappointing, Excruciating, Dull, Sleep-inducing

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.

Disappointing, Slow

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.