Your body is lying on a lumpy mattress in a hospital bed hooked up to loud beeping machines via various tubes. A pump breathes artificial air into your dormant lungs. Family members stand at your bedside berating themselves for not saying "I love you" enough, or fighting over your inheritance while they stare at your limp figure. Your body is in that bed, but your soul is not. You are not dead; you are not alive. You are "between worlds." Such is the fate of the characters in the Chekhov Theatre Ensemble's ethereal and intuitive production of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's tragic Between Worlds. A nearly bare set is enclosed by two walls joined to form a corner. One wall contains an exit labeled A for "accidental," and the other has a similar exit leading to Corridor D for "deliberate."
In the center is an elevator, through which enters a young man, Colin (Patrick Jones), unaware that he has just crashed into a tree at 100 miles an hour. He is greeted by two hooded assistants who don't speak but are able to tell him that he is to take up temporary residency in the "hotel." And this is just the beginning of a day or so at a place that houses people between life and death.
The Two Worlds Hotel is presided over by the elegant but icy Dr. S., played coldly but with just the right amount of tenderness by Jennifer Shirley. Other guests include the saucy cleaning lady, Jesse, portrayed in full raunchy glory by Andrea Seigel; a not-so-clairvoyant Magus played not so subtly by T. Scott Lilly; and an uptight Chairman of "the Board," portrayed by Max Evjen.
Prior to the second act, the hotel is visited by a regular guest, the innocent Laura, played by an illuminating Sara Barker. Laura has been wheelchair-bound for years and uses her trips to the hotel as a chance to escape the paralysis that has troubled her on earth. As Colin begins to understand the nature of the hotel while falling heavily for Laura, the other tenants anxiously await their fates, which will be determined by the elevator that has brought them there. When it is their time, they will be called to the elevator. If they are to survive, the elevator will bring them down to earth. If they are to die, the elevator will travel up. In the meantime, they must wait and contemplate the lives they have led.
Between Worlds tackles quite a few heavy subjects, namely death, the afterlife, destiny, depression, knowledge, sanity, and second chances. Since the play never gives any concrete answers to these questions, the audience is forced to draw their own conclusions, even regarding the outcome of Colin, who closes the play as he steps into the elevator and awaits his fate.
The play is ripe with witty and sometimes poignant one-liners, such as Colin's remark to Dr. S., "I never thought death would have such good legs," and Dr. S.'s scornful, "Using alcohol. The method [of suicide] used by cowards." The dialogue has a very natural, Mamet-esque feel to it, but the play itself is more in line with European playwrights like Heiner Muller, who use fantastical ideas and strange theatrical conventions, such as the mute assistants and the ambiguously gendered Dr. S. Director Ragnar Freidank's German background surely contributes to the avant-garde feel.
The acting is consistent and realistic across the board. The best dialogue takes place in the rushed exchange between Laura and Colin just before he is to be cornered into the elevator. He feverishly asks her simple, seemingly mundane questions about herself so that he may remember her when he is gone, and she replies just as excitedly, causing his exit to be indefinitely postponed. In fact, each time a guest enters the elevator and the doors close, there is a moment when we hold our breath to wait for the result, which is not always what we expect.
Overall, Between Worlds has a sort of unfinished feel to it, as if a small something has been lost in the translation. The play confronts death with such brazenness that you can only wish that you'll never end up a guest at the Two Worlds Hotel. Even so, the polished acting and intriguing subject matter turn the two hours into a visit worth making.