For lonely hearts who fear the prospect of dying alone, there's the thought-provoking and enchanting The Fire Room, written by Meghan Brown and directed by Amanda McRaven at the Actor's Company Theatre in West Hollywood as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
It's a well-conceived, directed, and acted story. First, there is a place in the afterlife for people who died alone. Second, apparently you can hook up with someone who died centuries before. Third, there's red tape for getting out of the waiting room of Purgatory and, in the arms of a significant other, march triumphantly through the Pearly Gates. And fourth, though we shouldn't be surprised in this era of Big Data and 24/7 Internet connectivity, the connection process is based on algorithms.
It's a clever tale, set in various Afterlife locales. There's a contemporary Van Nuys apartment, a Roaring Twenties Speakeasy, and some sort of office space where the admin takes place. Dressed in white, dancing with lissome grace across the stage, is an Administrator (Rachel Grate). In the company of her Assistants (Maricella Ibarra, Marissa Moses, Sena Ramirez), she angelically reads what at first appear to be an epic poem featuring Dido, Queen of Carthage, and pages from Harlequin romances. As we later learn, the words come from, for lack of a better word, applications that show the depth of romantic feeling to which aspirants to Afterlife-coupling can aspire.
In this unexpected setting, two ghosts, Meredith (Mercedes Manning) and J.W. (Jason Vande Brake) find true love. She died in a recent car crash; he died in the 19th century. Just a little paperwork (you didn't think you'd escape that once you died, did you?), and they can leave their bureaucratic Purgatory and carry on happily ever and forever after.
Small problem, though. Meredith had an ex, Charlie (Jim Senti). Charlie is one of those exes who believes that the couple's rancor and discord were a sign of a functional relationship based on a profound love. Another problem (more of a administrative detail, actually), Meredith, God knows why, pledged herself to Charlie when she died, giving him what amounts to rights of first refusal. Chastened, J.W. seeks consolation in the company of the lonely Eunice (Sage Simpson). The story resolves itself with the usual plot twists that would attend such a story in a mortal sphere.
It's a poetic and sensuous production (watch the electricity between Meredith and J.W.). It's sad (yes, there are bumps along the road to eternal love). And it's not a little funny (an algorithmic error almost lands one person in damnable perpetuity with the wrong person). In the space of an hour, the actors experience love, despair, anger, and loneliness. Like a good science fiction story, it seems so likely that, who knows, this just might be what is meant by getting a second chance at love.
Performances are 5:30pm, Saturday June 15; 7:00p, Friday, June 21; 7:00pm, Sunday, June 23; 8:30pm, Friday, June 28; and 4:00pm, Saturday, June 29. Tickets are $10. The Theatre is located at 916 N. Formosa Avenue. For more information, visit www.fugitivekind.com