Double-bill addresses aspects of death

by Jordan Green

A sleep-deprived Drew Dupont tosses his UPS hat under a chair at Drama Studio No. 1 at the Greensboro Cultural Arts Center and removes a jacket and scarf in preparation for rehearsal. Fellow actor Todd Fisher inquires as to whether he worked late the previous night.

Dupont nods, adding that his 2-year-old daughter woke him at 7:30 a.m. and roped him into some playtime with magnets.

Douglas Boxley, director of the one-act play “Deconstruction,” has been drawing black curtains over the studio’s brick interior walls and arranging institutional chairs into an improvised couch. He taps Fisher, who doubles as director of a companion piece, “Dead,” to lead the trio in exercises.

They lay on the floor, bodies arranged equidistant from each other and heads radiating from the center. Knees are pulled back to chests, lips burble and yawns emit freely.

“Really activate that core,” Fisher says. “Challenge those breathing muscles, so you can challenge your voice.”

A mood of mellow relaxation and brotherly accord settles over the room, clearing a kind of palette for the pageant of betrayal, tension and black humor that will ensue.

Fisher and Boxley’s new one-act plays, both dealing with aspects of death, comprise a double bill entitled “Afterlife” running Saturday, Feb. 2 through Monday, Feb. 4 at the Greensboro Cultural Arts Center.

“I was working on my lines, folding my laundry and drinking coffee this morning,” Fisher tells Boxley after the breathing and stretching is done. “I really messed it up. I don’t usually drink coffee.”

The first order of business is to choreograph a fight scene.

“I’m saying ‘half-nelson,’ so that I can breathe,” Fisher says. “Just like in WWE.” In the next several minutes, he’s going to learn how to die of strangulation, so that his character, Cody, can be subjected to a gruesome dismemberment by Dupont’s character, Russell, written as a former construction partner possessed of overweening ambition.

Fisher’s legs flop about as Dupont manhandles him, and they land on the floor. Fisher makes a hacking noise as his attacker chokes him. He gasps and goes limp.

That little maneuver accomplished, they rewind to the set-up: Russell comes home to find his old partner seated at the couch folding his laundry and drinking coffee. Dupont bears a deer-frozen-in-the-headlights quality in this scene that inexorably transforms to murderous focus. Fisher’s voice, naturally warm and gravelly, endows Cody with the false bonhomie of a sociopath who subtly toys with his quarry and denigrates him by co-opting the intimate details of his household.

“A guy like you I thought would take all his dirty work to the cleaners,” Cody says.

“I like to clean up my own mess,” Russell snarls in reply.

Dupont’s delivery is rough in spots, but by the second run-through as he squeezes the life out of Fisher’s character, he fairly shrieks with demonic intensity: “I was loyal until someone offered me a chance at a better life.”

Then he calmly removes his clothes, neatly drapes shirt and pants over the couch, and takes off his socks and stretches them perpendicularly across his dress shoes. He fetches an apron from a nearby toolbox and lays out an assortment of wicked implements, including a hacksaw, ball-peen hammer and needle-nose pliers.

At the end of the scene, Boxley beams with approval.

“When you folded your clothes, that was great,” he says. “You could even fold them more if you wanted. The socks killed me.”

“Dead,” the play directed by Fisher, is less plot driven and more philosophical.

“In both plays, somebody dies,” Fisher says. “In my play, everybody dies, or everybody is dead…. The only way to get people to be open to a discussion about death is for everybody to be dead.”

A little past noon the rehearsal concludes. Fisher is due at his bartending and serving job at Revival Grill at 4 p.m. In the meantime, he’ll be tacking up posters around downtown Greensboro and hitting up sponsors for money.

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