October 30, 2010

"After the Revolution" Wins My Allegiance

The folks who stayed for the talkback following the performance of After the Revolution that my husband K and I attended were intense.  They wanted to know whether playwright Amy Herzog’s family had been active Communists.  They wanted to know if young people today knew that the Russians had been U.S. allies during World War II.  They wanted to know how close she was to her mother and father.  One or two confided stories about their own families.

The questions—and even the confessions—will all make sense if you see Herzog’s wonderfully layered play about three generations of Upper Westside lefties that is playing through the end of November at Playwrights Horizons. The play centers around the family’s varied reactions to a revelation about the recently deceased patriarch, a committed Communist who became a hero to the Left when took the Fifth and refused to name names during the McCarthy era (click here to see a video trailer). 

I knew I wanted to see After the Revolution from the minute I read the names of its cast members, who include Peter Friedman, David Margulies, Mare Winningham and Lois Smith.  Under the spot-on director of Carolyn Cantor, they make the characters seem so textured and true-to-life that I keep expecting to run into one of them (the characters not the actors) on the subway or while shopping at my neighborhood Whole Food. 

It’s great to see top-shelf actors play complicated people.  But scenic designer Clint Ramos, costume designer Kaye Voyce and, especially, lighting designer Ben Stanton all deserve shout-outs too for giving the world that the play inhabits a convincing verisimilitude.

But the real triumph is Herzog’s.  She takes on a full agenda of topics that range from the guilt of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and the legacy of the blacklist to sibling rivalries and modern romance to the meaning of truth and the power of forgiveness. And she handles them all with intelligence and wit, and only occasionally succumbs to preachiness.  

This fall’s theater season is unusually busy and so I’ve been seeing a lot of shows.  And, as regular readers know, I’ve been sitting through far too many of them with my teeth gritted.  So I can give After the Revolution no higher praise than to say that as I watched it, I felt  my clenched jaws relax and a smile of satisfaction spread across my face. As far as I can tell, this is the first play of Herzog’s to be produced in New York.  I'm hoping it won’t be the last.

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