This Play Filled Me With Existential Dread and I Loved It
The Cultch's World Without Us explores our world, post-human—and it's terrifyingly awesome.
April 20, 2018
I’m as big a fan of wifi and avocado toast as the next millennial, but I’ve also always been a big believer that, all things considered, our planet would be much better off if humans didn’t exist. Call me a pessimist, but we have a pretty good track record of wrecking stuff—icebergs, panda bears, movie sequels. So as I entered Historic Theatre to see the opening night of the Cultch’s World Without Us, I was pretty psyched. I was about to see what the world would be like minus traffic and garbage and war, and I was so ready.
Now, I’m not trying to be dramatic, but this play did nothing less than make me question the very meaning of my existence. Karolien De Bleser, the show’s sole performer, is captivating in her role as narrator (an impressive feat for a 90-minute monologue that takes place, in part, in complete darkness). Rather than explaining what caused the fall of humanity, the show explores what might happen if suddenly, every human on earth simply disappeared. It’s a dark, intense, unapologetic and sometimes funny speculation of a post-human world, and I’m sure it affected every viewer differently. For me, at least, it felt an awful lot like I was moving through the five stages of grief, which went a little something like this:
Stage 1: Denial
The lights have been off for so long, I can’t tell whether my eyes are open or closed. If it weren’t for the occasional coughs from other audience members, I could be completely alone. But remember, this isn’t real—it’s just a play. The narrator’s matter-of-fact way of telling me that humans don’t exist may sound extraordinarily convincing, but she’s an actor. It’s not real. Humans still exist. I am an important and valuable member of my community and of this world. They’ll have to turn the lights back on soon…won’t they?
Stage 2: Anger
The narrator has pointed out that, even if we did disappear, the harm and destruction we’ve brought upon this world would last for hundreds of years. Take this theatre we’re in—it will still be here, plastics and electricity poisoning the animals that find shelter within. And she’s saying it like it’s no big deal. Why isn’t she more upset?! Humans are the worst. We ruin everything. Even now, some audience members shifting in their seats are distracting me from my existential crisis. The guy next to me is trying to take off his jacket without spilling his martini and I’m going to scream.
Stage 3: Bargaining
I mean, this is only one speculation of what would happen if humans stopped existing, right? It might be true and it might not. I’ll just listen now and think about it all later when I’m not in a dark room with a hundred strangers. Hold on—I can still hear the narrator’s voice, but her lips aren’t moving. Does anyone else see this?
Stage 4: Depression
In only a slender rectangle of light, the narrator reads a woman’s will. That woman is gone, but so is everyone else. It doesn’t matter who gets what. Humans don’t exist. Why do I get so mad when I lose at Monopoly? One day I’m going to die and the world will keep on turning and, even if it doesn’t, it won’t matter because I won’t be there to see it. Who cares if I didn’t land on Free Parking? I’m too young to be this cynical. I’m going to need therapy after this.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The narrator has exited in the same casual manner she entered—is she going to come back? She can’t leave us. I was so totally entranced with her that I forgot we were in a theatre. Something new lights up the stage, now—it’s the most dynamic part of the show so far, but I want the narrator back. Just when I thought I couldn’t stand her macabre monologue any longer, she left me yearning for her presence. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ll probably cry. I guess whether or not she comes back, life goes on for now.
When the lights came back up, it was a moment before the audience made a sound—we all wanted more. And when the first brave clappers decided the show had come to an end, the applause came quickly and was loud and long. De Bleser came out to bow, went backstage, and returned to bow a second time as her audience continued to applaud. But unlike other shows I’ve been to, there were no “woo’s” from the shaken crowd—even martini man didn’t utter a sound. It seemed we were all in silent agreement that while the performance certainly deserved our praise (and then some), the idea of a post-human world was way too chilling to cheer for.
Did this show make me feel good? No. Did it answer the questions I had about humanity, or the absence of it? No. Do I recommend it? Heck, yes.
Date: Now through April 29
Venue: Historic Theatre
Price: $22 to $39