HereAfter | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Lookingglass Theatre Company, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC Theater.

One of the unfortunate legacies of modernism is the antidemocratic notion that the more baffling and obscure the work, the closer it is to art. Hence Ezra Pound's unreadable Cantos and James Joyce's incomprehensible Finnegan's Wake, not to mention the current glut of dull playwrights, tedious performance artists, and pompous directors, most of whom were trained at our finest universities to create dead-on-the-stage work guaranteed to send audiences home screaming at intermission.

Director Royd Climenhaga, PhD, earned his degree in performance studies at Northwestern University, he proudly proclaims in his program bio. But he needn't have. The dense, confusing, text-heavy HereAfter, which he "conceived and directed," has masturbatory academic exercise written all over it. A seemingly endless series of short, disjointed, very literary scenes culled from over 40 texts by A-list authors (Dante, Chekhov, Beckett, Milton, to drop only a few names), HereAfter never really manages to be about anything. The title and a quote in the program from Milton about heaven and hell lead us to believe the show might somehow be about the afterlife. And to be sure there's lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth onstage--performed with the Lookingglass ensemble's trademark finesse--not to mention the audience's long minutes of silent desperation. But Climenhaga is remarkably vague on the subject of life after death--the show could just as easily be seen as the fever dream of an undergraduate who's been cramming for a lit final. Or a 90-minute argument against public funding for the arts.

Sadly, there's no intermission, so once the lights go down you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

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