Playwright David West Read is the master of “foul papers.”
His plays neither smell bad nor are about immorality; he just goes through way too many working drafts before presenting his final piece. The same has happened with his upcoming play, Afterlove.
Chautauqua Theater Company will present its second New Play Workshop, Afterlove, at 8 p.m. tonight in Bratton Theater. The play will also be staged at 6 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Friday.
“It takes years between the time you originally have the idea of a play and it actually being produced,” Read said.
Afterlove was conceived about a year and a half ago, and, despite many revisions, the basic idea behind the play remains the same: a doctor who finds love and companionship in a ghost.
“The play was, before — and still is — about a living person who falls in love with a ghost and the idea of two people who have a lot to offer each other but cannot be together because of a fundamental obstacle,” Read said.
CTC lighting fellow Megan Turnquist and sound fellow Brandon Reed have mixed feelings about the new script.
“It changed from a very quirky love story to a darker story about parents losing a 6-year-old to cancer,” Turnquist said. “I was a little sad when I read the new draft. I was set on the first story.”
On the other hand, Reed liked the new “darker” version of the play.
Earlier, the designers were dealing with the presence of a “ghostland” in the story, but now, that no longer exists. From two alternate worlds, the designers now need to light and sound a real world.
“Charlie [Jicha, scenic fellow] built a plastic wall that changes color and can take light really well,” Turnquist said. “This was fun when we had ghost world, but that no longer exists. Lighting the plastic will make the play look magical, and too magical because now it is a realistically grounded play dealing with loss.”
Turnquist’s lighting ideas stem from the lights seen during the “magnetic midnight.”
“My idea is that we start off with a realistic lighting, and as the play goes on, the lighting changes and becomes more otherworldly,” she said. “The imagery search I did was with the Aurora Borealis in mind, more greens and pinks, changing colors of walls and lighting angles.”
The sound department has an easier task at hand.
“I was playing with the idea of the play being rooted on Earth, and we hear influences from the ghost world. Even though the ghost world is no longer there, I can still play with the idea,” Reed said. “Everytime the ghosts interact with the humans, I can still play subtleties.”
But even with its challenges, both the design fellows agree that Afterlove is a great learning curve for them.
“It is a great experience for us to work with something that changes so quickly and have multiple ideas in our back pocket,” Turnquist said.
“It is unique being in an environment where anything can change at any moment,” he said.
The play is now more mysterious than it was in its previous incarnation.
“The new version is more grounded in reality and a little fantastical,” Read said. “I wanted to delve deeper into the personal life of this doctor and how he falls in love in the course of a single night. He is questioning his whole career and life choices at that point because he has just lost a patient and the hospital is having an investigation surrounding the circumstances.”
Director Andrew Borba had called Afterlove a NPW play in its purest form.
The conservatory cast, Audrey Corsa and Keren Lugo, and the design fellows all said they’re excited about this production. The first NPW play, The Engine of Our Ruin, had little to no changes, while Afterlove has gone through a number of versions of “foul papers.”
“[CTC] have been very supportive of the fact that the play is very much in process, and they are excited to work on something which is so fresh,” Read said.
As the design fellows work hard to make the fusion of these two alternate worlds look real, Read is ecstatic about his ghosts.
“There is something theatrical about ghosts,” he said. “I was interested in exploring a love story where people have to make sacrifices for each other, and I like to find extreme versions of the things I want to write. This, to me, seemed like the ultimate long-distance relationship. A person on earth and a person who is dead, and neither one can cross over into each other’s lives.”