Theatre Review



The Undertaking Affirms Our Fears


Event  Information

Durham -- ( Thu., Sep. 29, 2016 - Sat., Oct. 1, 2016 )

Duke Performances: The Undertaking
Performed by The Civilians
$28; $15; Duke Students $10 -- Sheafer Lab Theater , (919) 684-4444 , http://dukeperformances.duke.edu/

September 29, 2016 - Durham, NC:


Those with anxious minds and even the slightest diagnosis of thanatophobia may want to tread lightly when attending The Civilians' strikingly powerful and morbidly funny show The Undertaking.

Steve (Dan Domingues) is collecting testimonials from people for a show he's undertaking about our universal fear of dying — not the fear of death, but the fear that at any point in your life you could be gone from this world and onto the next. "I don't know if I want to live this life as a human again," he tells Lydia (Irene Lucio), his friend and confidant. Lydia describes to him a hallucinatory drug she (and others in her native Brazil) took that caused them to experience a feeling close to dying, there by abating their fear. Steve, an anxiety-ridden New Yorker, does not think that the fear can be abolished that quickly.

Taking inspiration from Jean Cocteau's Orpheus and an account Steve tells of a place where you can go to simulate the feeling of dying with an enclosed room, a blindfold, and vibrations, Lydia takes Steve through the metaphorical underworld of his fears. In simulating his fears, Steve comes to terms with the roots of his fear, discovering the hard truth that when you die, the world will continue on.

Wherever The Civilians are, it's best to cancel your plans and go see whatever they are doing. Their shows often stem from documented testimonials from real people — illustrated in this production by the two actors' recreations of them with Tal Yarden's accompanying projections. On paper, their shows appear epic in scope, but benefit from the moment-to-moment revelations that come a mile a minute.

Just about every question and rumination you may have had on death is covered in the 90 minutes of The Undertaking. The depth of this exploration, of the horror of losing control of our lives in our final breaths, is overwhelmingly haunting. Writer and director Steve Cosson, on whom the "Steve" of the show is based, creates a hyperbolic tone of morbid curiosity and life-affirming feelings. The play is a bleak take on carpe diem, having us face the fact that when we are gone from this world, no one will know — so why should be spend our whole lives quaking in fear?

The Undertaking is not a complete downer of a play, though; it is surprisingly light-hearted in the banter between Steve and Lydia. Domingues and Lucio played off one another effortlessly. The play's documentary style of storytelling will excite those new to The Civilians and their avid followers.

In its most basic form, The Undertaking does the task theatre professionals set out to do weekend after weekend: put 100+ people in a room, face their fears, and send them home affirmed that, regardless of the terrible things that surround us, everything will be okay because the world will continue to turn, right? Cosson's work is overwhelmingly beautiful in showing that our minds are the ones that imprison us from enjoying life and we need to get out of them.

The Undertaking continues through Saturday, October 1. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.