“No man’s worth losing your brain over.” The only one who doesn’t lose it, though, in the course of William Bivins’ The Afterlife of the Mind, put on by Virago Theatre Company at the Ashby Stage, is Harry, famous (and terminally ill) philosopher, who is all brain—literally.
Having speculated on an oblivious existence (“deprived of your senses, would you go mad, or would your mind create an inner world the way an amputee’s creates an imaginary limb?”), Harry finds—or tries to find—himself back in the womb, debating with his Anima (Brittany K. McGregor), while uncharacteristically overcome by remorse. “Should I grovel?” he asks his spiritual better half. “You don’t have knees,” she observes.
The lead-up to this stand-off—this oxymoronic, solipsistic dispute—sees Harry’s young, devoted wife, Lydia (Megan Killian), awkwardly offering herself to a renegade emigré neurosurgeon, Ulrich (Dennis McIntyre), under the jaded eye of his nurse-cum-dominatrice and bartender Dinah (Tracey Rhys) and picking up terminal brain cancer patients, like brilliant, sensitive Todd (Elias Escobedo) as potential transplant hosts, wanting them, as Todd realizes with a jolt, only for their bodies.
“If I can’t believe I’m second-rate, the whole last decade of my life will have been wasted!” Lydia replies to Father Jerome—played by Lol Levy—who has suggested that Harry has intellectually oppressed her.
Virago has cast the show very well, particularly in the case of Megan Killian. All the players show poise amid chaos and speculation. Cofounder Laura Lundy-Paine’s direction brings out both the humor and the insanity of trying to work out a desperate notion as if it were rational, the pretense at normalcy hanging by fingertips as all kinds of banal nuttiness intrudes on the talk about big issues. The painstakingly worked-out script sometimes plays like an extended riff on The Twilight Zone. It could stand a little more burlesque, exaggerating those painstaking contrasts, flushing out the darker, truly grotesque implications of the theme.
“Can you escape the Ontological Argument?” Harry ponders, “It’s coming to me ... I’m tenured!”
Amid the unnerving offstage racket of drills and powersaws, punctuated by profanities in German, the blood-spattered tanktop of the unlicensed surgeon, the monstrous quality of the brain’s eventual host, The Afterlife of the Mind finds its most squeamish horrors parodying routines of the everyday.
AFTERLIFE OF THE MIND
Virago Theatre Co.
Thurs.–Sat. 8 p.m.
through Oct. 31 (plus midnight Halloween)
Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. (at MLK). Tickets: $15–$25.