It sounds like a geek's daydream, but it quickly turns from survival tale to personal contest of wills. Despite Mark's contention that they "need to get along," Louise proves hostile to Mark's attempted cheerfulness and the pair bickers as much over the practical concerns of rationing food as to old petty work squabbles. A battle over the remaining resources ultimately pits her backhanded allure against his greater physical strength.
Few enjoy seeing a play that reduces humanity to our animal nature; we quite instinctually recoil from it. But Kelly uses the postapocalyptic scenario to meditate on evolution's central relationship, drawing instead on archetypal themes of marriage and isolation. In this way, it reminds more of Edward Albee's George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? than the unlikely last couple from Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's Boom (staged in Philly a few years back by Flashpoint Theatre).
Under James Kiesel's direction, a looming sense of terror builds through each of the script's short scenes. His brilliant choice of venue stacks the audience's 18 seats inside a 12-by-20 cell, flanked by a pair of wood-plank cots hanging by chains and shelves of supplies. When Mark and Louise fight — with words and, later knifes — neither has more than a corner to crawl to. The production foregoes any spectacle, relying on Gable and Hatheway's potent, unfolding performances of a pair clinging to a lifeboat while trying to push the other into an abyss.
Kelly's script would work well in film, a medium that could better reveal weeks of weight loss, not to mention the obvious touches GDP could have filled in, such as increasingly grimy hair, and makeup that showed skin sallowing from long stretches spent underground.
But I can't fault minor details in this company's superb, suspenseful staging. A few well-placed clues portend the conclusion's twist, that nonetheless surprises like a nice guy whose creepiness you couldn't see coming.
After the End
Presented by GDP Productions at The A&E Studio, 1233 Vine St. July 13-22. Tickets: $13-$15. Information: gdpproductions.com