Monday, May 14, 2012

Family Secrets, Deeper Implications -- Theater Review: After the Revolution

Theater Review

After the Review
a play by Amy Herzog
directed by Kimberly Senior
Next Theatre, Evanston

It is 1999. Emma has just graduated from law school in New York City, to the delight of her father, who is a college professor and avowed Marxist.

With the help of her boyfriend, Miguel--about whom her left-wing family is both accepting and bigoted--Emma runs the Joe Joseph Fund, named for her grandfather who had been an American Communist. They are working to prevent Mumia Abu-Jamal from being executed, and Emma is trying to garner a big contribution from a wealthy donor.

Also factoring in are Emma's stepmom, step-grandmother, an uncle and a sister who has been through rehab multiple times.

But things in Emma's life don't really get complicated until [SPOILER ALERT, but the play is historically-based and this is shared in pre-show materials] she learns that her grandfather wasn't just a Communist, but also gave secrets to the Soviets as a member of the OSS.

This is the setup of Amy Herzog's compelling, largely biographical play, After the Revolution, now in its last week at Evanston's Next Theatre. Herzog's grandfather, Julius Joseph, was revealed as having been a spy--along with many other American Communists--when a book about the Venona Project was published in 1999.

With so much going on, the play isn't pitch-perfect throughout but raises enough thought-provoking questions to quite worthwhile, especially given the discounted HotTix I was able to get (the show is already listed for next weekend).

Christine Stulik delivers a strong, believably-chagrined performance as Emma, and the cast is fine throughout, including MaryAnn Thebus, Marvin Quijada, Phil Ridarelli and Mick Weber.

I was disappointed to learn only upon arriving at Next that the great Mike Nussbaum, shown in Chris Jones' review of the play, had moved on from the production, but his role (of Morty, the prospective donor) wouldn't have been that big and was ably handled by Fredric Stone.

Next typically has a post-show discussion on Sundays and yesterday's included a special guest, Northwestern University law professor Martin Redish. His insights about American Communism in the '40s and the repercussions of the Venona Project revelations provided even more fodder for consideration.

Powerful plays often pose more questions than they answer, as real life--especially where families are concerned--can be rather oblique. After the Revolution does, although the "isms" that surround the play--communism, McCarthyism, etc.--are more interesting to me than some of the on-stage interactions between Emma, her family members or boyfriend.

The set was impressive for the size of Next's stage, but the same backdrop serving numerous settings at times came close to confusing me. But even if the on-stage dynamics weren't quite as riveting to me as Chris Jones' 4-star (out of 4) review suggests, the questions After the Revolution left me with seemingly serve to make a good play even better...afterwards.

1 comment:

Bobster said...

Seth- sounds like a really great cast! I should probably see it because it's so close. Well--I'll let you know if I do & we can compare notes. "KIN" at Griffin @ Theater Wit is a good enough script but I liked the characters and personalities as represented by the cast better than the show itself. It's intense but tends to drag in parts.