The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

When the afterlife is digitized in a video game

In Rorschach Theatre’s “410[Gone],” the occasional computer message scrolls across the walls.
In Rorschach Theatre’s “410[Gone],” the occasional computer message scrolls across the walls. (Ryan Maxwell Photography)

Worried that tech devices are impinging on family time? Maybe your concerns should extend to the afterlife, too. In Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s audacious, irreverent and ultimately moving play “410[GONE],” the Chinese Land of the Dead has gone pixelated, with souls coming through via download and the karmic cycle pivoting on the mechanism of a video game.

In the occasionally frenetic Rorschach Theatre production of the play, directed by Gregory Keng Strasser, digital features add to the funhouse atmosphere of the Great Beyond. Video game landscapes, and the occasional computer message, scroll against the walls around a catwalk, while strings of colored lights flash opposite a bathtub, not far from a collection of glass jars that may contain human pain. (Debra Kim Sivigny designed the set, and Kylos Brannon, the projections. Roc Lee designed the aptly ominous sound.)

This world is ruled by the Goddess of Mercy (Yasmin Tuazon), a striking white-gowned figure who has lost the ability to be merciful. Together with the mute Ox-Head (Andrew Quilpa) and excitable Monkey King (Jacob Yeh), the Goddess oversees the processing of downloaded souls — until the arrival of a mysteriously non-digitized Chinese American teenager, Seventeen (Sebastian Amoruso), throws a wrench in the works. Meanwhile, in the Land of the Living, Seventeen’s sister, Twenty-one (Linda Bard), searches for her dead brother with tools that include mathematical calculations, a detective kit and a shrine.

Tuazon ably channels the Goddess’s dyspeptic charisma, and Yeh’s Monkey King displays simian movement and insolent verve. Admittedly, both characters are so obstreperous as to be exhausting to spend time with, at least until a cathartic development near the story’s end. (Rhe’a Roland designed the fun, sly costumes, which include shiny gold sneakers for the Monkey King.)

By contrast, Bard’s artfully pitched portrait of Twenty-one, who pads around in undergrad lounge wear, burying her grief beneath perkiness, gives the play rich emotional grounding. Amoruso displays less stage presence, but he does a mean bit of hoofing in a sequence involving the video game “Dance Dance Revolution.”

As the story of Twenty-one and Seventeen unspools, another layer of meaning accrues to the distinctive details of the play’s afterlife: those telemarketing calls the Monkey King keeps getting; the irrational number imprinted on an eerily generated banner; the fight sequence resembling a computerized martial arts game. All this sensory-overload zaniness begins to seem, poignantly, a metaphor for the disorientation that can accompany great loss.

410[GONE], by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig; directed by Gregory Keng Strasser; lighting, Katie McCreary; choreography, Sarah Taurchini; fight director, Casey Kaleba. 90 minutes. Tickets: $20-$30. Through April 15 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Visit or call 202-452-5538 for information or 202-399-7993 for tickets.