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A spring of world premieres comes to Philly stages

‘Eternal Life Part 1,′ directed by Morgan Green, makes its world premiere at the Wilma. It's just one of the several more premieres this theater season.

"Eternal Life Part 1" with Brandon J. Pierce will have its world premiere at the Wilma Theater, April 11-30.
"Eternal Life Part 1" with Brandon J. Pierce will have its world premiere at the Wilma Theater, April 11-30.Read moreJohanna Austin

As the pandemic reached its full-throttled awfulness, death was everywhere — the relentless accounting of grim mortality statistics, the heartbreaking stories of loved ones struggling to breathe, the overwhelming fear and loneliness.

It was in that milieu that Wilma Theater’s lead artistic director, Morgan Green, one of three artistic co-directors at Wilma, came across Eternal Life Part 1, a play about death by Boston playwright Nathan Alan Davis, and knew she had to bring it to the Wilma for its world premiere.

The pandemic darkened theaters, but this spring, Philadelphia’s stages are alight with nearly half dozen world premieres.

“I think that after the pandemic and during the pandemic, death became much closer and much more real and ever present,” Green said. “I was reading a lot of plays about death and grieving. It felt like something that we, as a society, and we, as a community, needed to be talking about.

“The play is pushing me personally to think about death,” Green said. “It’s asking me to be very clear with myself about what are the most important things in life.”

All that heaviness aside, Green says Eternal Life Part 1 has a lot of comedy. (Let’s start with the goose in the opening scene, for example, then add talking snowflakes, conversing as they fall meltingly to their demise.)

“It’s hard to think about these heavy things without comedy,” Green said. The play “is very whimsical. There are a lot of funny quirky moments, and a lot of physical comedy from the actors.”

In Eternal Life Part 1, two characters, named Man and Woman, move into their new house and begin to ask themselves how they should conduct their lives. A goose intervenes and becomes part of the question.

“They are using the relationship with the goose as an example of the larger question of how to take care of our environment, how to take care of our homes, and how to take care of ourselves,” Green said.

The play hops around time-wise. Man and Woman have a child, Junior, who quickly moves from babyhood into rebellious adolescence in scenes that will elicit knowing, if rueful laughs, from parents in the audience.

Meanwhile, Woman is battling thanatophobia, meaning “fear of death.” Of course, said Green, everyone has some fear of death, both “fear and shame.”

The play “functions as an adult fable,” she said.

Green said Eternal Life Part 1′s set acts as its own metaphor. Spring blooms on one side of the house, while fall settles in on the other. On the spring side, there’s a joyous swing, but on the fall side, a coffin never leaves the stage. It serves as a constant reminder of death’s inevitability and of the finite nature of life, as we know it, on earth.

Working with the playwright to produce a world premiere has been exciting, Green said. Last week, for example, she and Davis cut six scenes from the play.

“We’re trying to tighten up the story line together. I feel as director I am part of sculpting the story and how to tell it,” she said, adding that the actors are also part of the process. During the pandemic, Green directed the world premiere of Fat Ham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Philadelphia playwright James Ijames, also artistic co-director at the Wilma.

Meanwhile, the world premiere of another Ijames’ play, Abandon, runs April 27 through May 21 at Theatre Exile. It too has a death theme, involving a woman haunted by the ghost of her son.

More world premieres: Francisca da Silveira’s pay no worship about climate change continues at InterAct Theatre Co. through April 23. Azuka Theatre Co. offers Galilee by Christine Evans, also about climate change, May 4-21.

Even though Quintessence Theatre Co. usually stages historical classics, its world premiere, Written by Phillis, is about a historical figure — an enslaved American poet, May 10-June 4.

An adaptation of Jane Eyre by the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective opens May 11 at Christ Church Neighborhood House, closing May 28. And finally, Juliette Dunn’s The Puzzle, about clowning and neurodivergence, runs May 17-28 at Hedgerow Theatre Co.

“Eternal Life Part 1” runs April 11-30 at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., Phila. 215-546-7824 or Check with the theater for COVID-19 protocols. For information on other local events, visit