Stay in the Loop
BSR publishes on a weekly schedule, with an email newsletter every Wednesday and Thursday morning. There’s no paywall, and subscribing is always free.
Imagine a world where you could live forever. Greenland has become carbon-negative, and spaceships are off on voyages to span millennia, in search of a new Earth. You’ve just bought a state-of-the-art smart home, and it comes with a talking goose. This is the future imagined by Nathan Alan Davis's Eternal Life Part 1, now getting its world premiere at the Wilma.
Human civilization is on the brink of new frontiers, but the world has become stranger in ways that no one might have expected. In the gap between a startling new future and a quickly vanishing past, the play conjures a quietly delicate, always absorbing portrait of a world on a precipice.
Our conduit is a family of three: Woman, Man, and Junior (Jennifer Kidwell, Steven Rishard, and Brandon J. Pierce). This is the American nuclear family in the not-too-distant future. They have achieved a certain level of comfort—most explicitly rendered in their clean white smart home, with an AI that falls somewhere between HAL 9000 and an iPod Shuffle—but still they wrestle with questions of purpose: how best to live, how someday to die. In this focus, the play recalls the stylings of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, a novel that similarly employs sweeping science-fiction concepts and grounds them in the quotidian of everyday family life.
Beyond the stage
While this may be the archetypal family of the future, the play avoids generalities through the richly textured performances of Kidwell, Rishard, and Pierce. We witness their domestic lives in a collection of scenes that span decades, through which we glean a full dimensionality, a family that exists beyond its presence on the stage. The actors’ finest moments emerge in this nuanced work through time, as we see a character years later and realize the subtleties that separate who they were from who they have become. Kidwell’s turn is especially compelling, at once a restless presence always in search of purpose, and the emotional anchor around which the entire play pivots.
And yes, there’s a talking goose, brought to life in a gleefully subdued turn by Sarah Gliko, bobbing and waddling about the theater. Gliko’s precise physicality imparts an indelible comedic presence that never feels discordant with the world of the play. Much credit also goes to Morgan Green’s skillful direction, weaving such disparate elements as space travel and talking animals into a singular piece. The cacophony might feel unwieldy in lesser hands, but everything harmonizes in fairy-tale rhythm, with the tenor of a modern fable.
The scaffolding of existence
Like any good fable, Eternal Life Part 1 reflects on the structures we create against a strange, chaotic existence—in this case, the structure of time. The play begins at a funeral and reverts to the past from there; the shadow of the grave is thus cast across all that follows. Years will flit by in the span of seconds, only for some buried memory to suddenly reemerge as a chimera, lighting up the stage long after it came to pass. Even the family seems to feel the dissolution of time as we know it. While time itself may be an absolute, the constructs of days, months, years all seem to disintegrate, insubstantial as sand in the wind.
Even in this future, it seems that some fears will forever persist; eternal life does not solve the problem of death. In the end, we confront the same questions besetting humanity for centuries, in this strange and wondrous future. It is a world I would happily revisit. And who knows, after all—this is only Part 1.
What, When, Where
Eternal Life Part 1. By Nathan Alan Davis, directed by Morgan Green. $25-$59. Through April 30, 2023, at Wilma Theater, 265 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 546-7824 or wilmatheater.org.
The Wilma is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Assisted listening devices are available at all performances. Open captioning and an audio describer will be available on Friday, April 28, at 7pm, and Saturday, April 29, at 2pm, with a “relaxed” performance on Saturday, April 22, at 2pm. Visit the Wilma’s accessibility page for more info.
For this production, the Wilma is offering a mix of mask-optional and mask-required performances. You can see a list of upcoming performances and their requirements here.
Sign up for our newsletter
All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.