One of the delights of Triangle theater in 2011 is the emergence of recent Barton College graduate Jess Jones as one of this area’s finest young actresses. She sparkles like a 24-karat diamond in dime-store brooch in Deep Dish Theater Company’s earnest but badly flawed production of After the Revolution by Amy Herzog. The Park Slope, NJ dramatist’s talky, talky, talky script exposes the secrets and lies of three generations of a radical leftist Joseph family.
Grandpa Joe (now deceased) was and Grandma Vera (Patsy Clarke) is an unrepentant Communist, and their son Ben (Jack Prather) still worships at the altar of the God That Failed. Joe and Vera’s other son Leo (John Paul Middlesworth) and Ben’s wife Mel (Susannah Hough) are committed leftists, but not quite so doctrinaire; and Ben and Mel’s daughter Emma (Jess Jones) is a liberal political activist who is about to graduate from law school and devote her full time and boundless energy to a new foundation that she has established in her grandfather’s name.
The Joe Joseph Foundation’s first crusade is to challenge the death sentence of convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther Party member, radio journalist, and political activist whose plight has become an international cause célèbre. But there are questions about Abu-Jamal’s guilt that trouble Emma’s Latino boyfriend and fellow law school graduate Miguel (Omar Morales), who will also work for the Joe Joseph Foundation after graduation.
The fly in the Joseph family ointment is the imminent publication of a tell-all book, based on the most recent revelations of the VENONA project. Some of them challenge the truthfulness of Joe Joseph, who vehemently denied to the House Un-American Activities Committee that he was a Soviet spy during World War II. It was a defiant moment that became one of his principal claims to fame.
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But when Emma finds out that the grandfather she worships as a secular saint had feet of clay — and that various family members knew about Joe Joseph’s lies, but let her continue to extol his virtues in speech after speech — her whole world crumbles around her. Jess Jones is especially eloquent in expressing Emma’s anguish when she finds out the truth about her grandfather.
Her father Ben’s complicity in this deception — indeed, his mealy-mouthed justifications for continuing to burnish Joe Joseph’s undeserved reputation as a hero of the proletariat — are disillusioning for Emma. So, she closes the iron door on Ben and refuses to return his calls.
Meanwhile, her romance with Omar hits the rocks. But Omar Morales’ portrayal as Miguel is so prosaic that it is hard for the audience to care when Emma kicks him to the curb. Morales rattles off his lines, but he lacks the conviction necessary to win the viewers’ sympathy.
Jack Prather as Ben proves to be a much more worthy adversary for Jess Jones’ Emma, even when he is stridently spouting the Communist Party line. John Paul Middlesworth is a bit too nonchalant as Ben’s more easygoing brother Leo; but Patsy Clarke and Susannah Hough are pistols and they make Joe Joseph’s feisty widow Vera and Ben Joseph’s concerned wife Mel truly unforgettable characters.
Mara Thomas phones in a colorless cameo as Emma’s sister Jess; but Rod Rich is much more memorable as Morty, a well-heeled Marxist philanthropist whose commitment to the Joe Joseph Foundation never wavers, even on the eve of the publication of the exposé that will knock his favorite liberal icon from his pedestal.
Amy Herzog’s all-too predictable plot for After the Revolution is all talk and very little action. Its characters exchange verbal volleys on a figurative tennis court, but they never reach match point. Indeed, Act I and Act II just end, with no climax for the actors or catharsis for the onlookers.
However, if Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick can smooth out some rough spots, he may be able to make After the Revolution more palatable for Triangle theatergoers. But he will have to coax fully three-dimensional performances from all of his cast members. Otherwise, this provocative but underdeveloped 2009 drama will merely serve as a nice showcase for rising star Jess Jones, but little else.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 31st Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/family-political-secrets-in-deep-dishs-after-the-revolution/Content?oid=2645951; and Aug. 30th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/08/30/1445929/actors-score-with-nuanced-drama.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Aug. 25th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/08/amy-herzogs-provocative-play-after-the-revolution-reveals-secrets-and-lies-of-a-radical-leftist-family/.)
Deep Dish Theater Company presents AFTER THE REVOLUTION at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1, 8 p.m. Sept. 2 and 3, 2 p.m. Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7 and 8, 8 p.m. Sept. 9 and 10, 2 p.m. Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 and 15, and 8 p.m. Sept. 16 and 17 in its performance space between The Print Shop and the future home of the Public Library at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Dr. and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514.
TICKETS: $17 ($15 seniors) Wednesday and Thursday and $19 ($17 seniors) Friday-Sunday.
BOX OFFICE: 919/968-1515 or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE 1: Dramaturg Karen Blansfield will give a pre-show “Meet the Play” talk on at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2nd.
NOTE 2: There will be a “Meet the Designers” discussion with the production staff on Thursday, Sept. 8th and another post-performance discussion on Sunday, Sept. 11th, with the cast and Dr. Barbara True-Weber of Meredith College in Raleigh.
NOTE 3: The Deep Dish Book Selection, In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (http://eriklarsonbooks.com/the-books/in-the-garden-of-beasts/), will be discussed at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 12th, at Flyleaf Books (http://www.flyleafbooks.com/), 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
The Play: http://dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4267 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Playwright: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsH/herzog-amy.html (Doollee.com) and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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