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Theater review by Adam Feldman
Since 2001, Steve Cosson and his documentary-theater troupe, the Civilians, have held mirrors up to human nature with art marked by intelligence, curiosity and a sense of wry wonder. For the most part, Cosson has angled these shows to keep himself out of their direct field of reflection, even as they conveyed a clear view of his sensibilities. In The Undertaking, however, he allows himself to be led center stage, bystander no longer—a Civilian drawn into combat with his own trepidations. The show is about confronting death, and it is both absorbingly universal and unusually personal.
Two versatile actors, Dan Domingues and Aysan Celik, portray several people interviewed for the project, including philosopher Simon Critchley, actor Everett Quinton and a woman whose heart briefly stopped after a ski crash. But mostly they play Cosson and his friend Lydia, a Brazilian artist who—inspired by the Jean Cocteau film Orpheus and by a recovering cancer patient who took magic mushrooms in a clinical study—offers to be his guide into the underworld. (The delightful word for the job is psychopomp.) The Undertaking is less sleek and knowing than some of the Civilians’ past work; Cosson braves looking confused and even faintly ridiculous. But that, the play suggests, is the price of engagement. The fog on the mirror is a sign of life.
59E59 Theaters (Off Broadway). By Steve Cosson. Directed by Cosson. With Dan Domingues, Aysan Celik. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.