In “life.cycle.,” a new theatre production written by and starring Bainbridge Islanders, caseworkers in the Offices of Reincarnation ask the question: Can love surpass death?
The show, which is set to open at Seattle’s Eclectic Theatre next week, promises to be a full-faced drama that collects the laughter, the intensity and the beauty of love that persists into the next life.
“It’s this absurdist world, but the characters who live there are very human and very animal,” explained writer and islander Keiko Green.
In this world, people don’t remember their previous lives. They have no way of knowing past encounters and relationships.
While also ignorant to their previous lives, two caseworkers in the Offices of Reincarnation have the unique job of deciding what happens to those that arrive on the other side of life and who they will become next.
Humans become animals, insects become plants, animals become insects, a human is released into Nirvana. The caseworkers do their job well, and make judgments based on a being’s attachment to life and love.
But when a mysterious client with a missing file appears in the office, their world is flipped upside down.
“Life.cycle.” unhinges the past and tells what happens when these caseworkers find out more than they are supposed to know about their own lives long forgotten.
Green, the brains behind the production, is an emerging playwright on Bainbridge. This is her second full-length production among an array of shorts and 30-minute one act plays shown on Bainbridge and in Seattle.
She’s not religious, nor from a religious family, but she grew up in Georgia and went to a Christian Japanese school.
Naturally, life after death has always been a fascinating topic. Later, in college, she heard the story of the Buddha, and it stuck with her. The idea of reincarnation took a whole new meaning upon hearing his journey to enlightenment and Nirvana.
In a rough version of the story, Siddhartha has everything. He has a good family who loves him, and he has friends who admire and love him.
Yet, when he becomes of age, he leaves it all behind in search of a better understanding of life. He never sees those people again. This detachment to human, dependent love eventually leads to his Buddha-hood. For to be a Buddha, you must love everyone and everything in loving kindness, equally. There is no lesser or more important being than the next being, because love is supposed to stretch over all living energy like a blanket.
“That story to me was just so upsetting,” Green said. “I thought it was so sad that to reach enlightenment you have to leave everything behind, even the people who love you.”
So in “life.cycle.,” Green draws on these elements of reincarnation as Buddhism explains it to create a world of judgment.
In the Offices of Reincarnation, human attachment and love is frowned upon, a handicap.
What the audience finds out as the show unravels is that some relationships are a little more complex than that.
Green introduces all levels of connections from familial love to cliché love to animal love.
“I didn’t want it to be just about two people loving each other,” Green said. “I didn’t want to be disrespectful. There’s so much more than that.”
She explains that the look a leopard gives its prey is not dissimilar from the way people court each other standing in a bar. And an animal’s taste for blood is not dissimilar from a caterpillar’s taste for leaves. It’s not all destructive or consuming, either. A baby putting his mother’s hand in his mouth because he wants to feel connected to her again or a man having a love affair with a woman in Paris, Green explains, are human, animal moments.
“It can be really sweet or really disturbing,” Green explained. “That’s one of the fun things we play with.”
The story, in its raw nature, challenges the audience to embrace the discomfort and, at times, embarrassment of what comes out of a love discourse.
“Every inch of this story is just incredibly crafted,” said actor and islander Justin Wayne Lynn.
Lynn plays the role of the Little Man. He’s the boss at the Offices of Reincarnation and is second only to the unseen Big Man.
“I envision that the Little Man has been a predator pretty much his entire existence,” Lynn explained. “He’s very good at giving you this sense of comfort, but you can see right behind. He’s just this fierce guy.”
Little Man is one of five characters in the show. It makes for a small but tight line-up of roles that doesn’t leave anything to waste. There are no throwaways or extras in this production.
“I think one of the things I like most about the show is that (Green) gave every character a really juicy role,” said Amy Escobar, the director of the show.
The show stars Keiko Green as Val, caseworker in the Offices of Reincarnation; Andy Buffelen as Andrew, Val’s assistant; Elaine Huber as Diane, a recently deceased woman; Justin Wayne Lynn as Little Man, Val and Andrew’s boss and right hand to the unseen Big Man; Lynn also appears as Jake, Diane’s husband on Earth. Also appearing is dancer Joshua Williamson and islander and dance choreographer Roxanne Foster.
It’s a tight crew with one set designer (Angus Maxwell), one light-and-sound designer (Sarah Stolnack), and a director who doubled as costume designer (Escobar).
But despite a low budget and a small cast, “life.cycle.” is a seamless production that takes the audience out of their chairs and into the Offices of Reincarnation. And it’s a show that viewers will continue to think about on the way home.
“Even when there are moments that make you struggle, and moments that you build up where you’ll never be satisfied with the outcome, life will always go on,” Green said.
The show will be playing at Eclectic Theatre in Seattle's Capitol Hill at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 3 and Friday, July 5 and then again at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, July 8. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $8 for students and seniors. They can be purchased at tinfoilcardboard.com