November 4, 2017

"After the Blast" Finds Uplift in a Dystopia

In these challenging times, a play that makes a convincing argument for why it's important to continue on despite overwhelming odds is especially welcomed. And that's exactly what LCT3's production of Zoe Kazan's After the Blast does.

Set in some unspecified future when environmental or man-made disaster has made the earth uninhabitable, it creates a world in which a curated group of humans live underground, technology has advanced to the point that robots can serve as companions and virtual reality allows people to escape into simulations of a better life. But all real resources in this society, from drinking water to the ability to have a child, are rationed.

As the play opens, Anna, a journalist, and her husband Oliver, one of the subterranean colony's leading scientists, are very much in love and desperate to have a child. But they've failed to pass the qualifying tests because of Anna's mental condition, a depression that deepens each time the couple is turned down. Now, when they have just one more chance to make the cut, Oliver tries to distract Anna from her mounting anxiety by bringing home a robot for her to train to work with the disabled.

Anna resists at first but gradually grows fond of the R2D2-style contraption, whom she nicknames Arthur in homage to the iconic "Star Wars" character it resembles. And as time goes on, her deepening bond with Artie, as she nicknames it, threatens her relationship with Oliver.

The fact that none of this seems at all silly or campy is a testament to Kazan, an accomplished actress who has matured as a playwright since her shaky authorial debut with We Live Here back in 2011 (click here to read my review of that one). This time out, she's in impressive command of both the text, which is smart and witty, and the subtext, which is heartwarming and inspirational.

But credit also must be shared with the sensitive staging by Lila Neugebauer, who in just the last three years has become one of New York's most astute directors (click here to read more about her). And still even more praise must go to the excellent cast, lead by Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper—and including Will Connolly who supplies the voice for Artie.

Milioti emerges as first among equals with a fine-spun performance that weaves together the desperation that haunts Anna and her determination to live life as honestly as she can.

 Plus Milioti gets bonus points for managing to be so authentic opposite an inanimate—albeit irresistibly cute—scene partner (click here to read an interview with the actress). Meanwhile, Harper runs a close second as a man ready to do anything, even betray her, to make his wife happy.

After the Blast, which runs 2 hours and 15 minutes, has its longeurs but they're leavened by its humor (much of it supplied by Anna's interactions with Artie) and by the play's resolute conviction that the sacrifices we make today are necessary if we want to build a better future for those coming after us—but also so that we can make life worth living for the people we love now.

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