Arts & Events

Theater Review: After the Revolution, at Aurora

By Ken Bullock
Friday September 13, 2013 - 05:12:00 PM

"I thought he was blacklisted because he was an ideological Commie—and now you tell me ... "

Opening with excited, overlapping dialogue by three generations of a staunchly leftist political family, gathered to celebrate the granddaughter's speech at graduation about the persecuted, heroic grandfather she's named an activist foundation after—and closing with a tense tete-a-tete between granddaughter and step-grandmother, keeper of the flame for her legendary late husband, and maybe the thorniest Jewish grandma onstage since Lost in Yonkers ...

Amy Herzog's After the Revolution, about the revelation of social and family myths and its devastating effect on those raised to believe them as gospel, seems the perfect play for Aurora to start a new season with. Joy Carlin has directed a fine cast—Jessica Bates, Ellen Ratner, Rolf Saxon, Pamela Gaye Walker, Victor Talmadge, Adrian Achondo, Peter Kybert and Sarah Mitchell—resolved into an ensemble. The background of its story, of the legacy of a political lion, pilloried by HUAC just after the execution of the Rosenbergs, tarnished by posthumous charges of espionage, is also a surprisingly current theme, with the Snowden Affair and the NSA scandal it brought about still being played out. 

Amy Herzog grew up in a family with a similar heritage, and is able to invest the action with something of the aura of familial warmth—and machinations. The squabbling can be hilarious or fraught, the togetherness—well, heartwarming ... 

Maybe it's the touching moments that point to a lack of depth to the proceedings overall. Characters—and they can be real characters! at least at the point of introduction—take the stage, questions come up, conflict begins ... and everything seems to eventually fall back in place, the mysterious package, once unwrapped, is tied back together again with a perfect bow. Emma, the family's golden girl, "processes" familial trauma and personal relationship with her live-in Latino boyfriend and foundation associate (who her leftist family reacts to as one or another face out of a stereotype); it's funny, charming, touching by degrees, but very predictable, "script-driven," like a shared game of solitaire at times, everything for the linear development of the plot, little to enrich or deepen what was so interesting at first blush. 

A particular example would be the character of Leo, played—in the little moments when it's possible—with distinction by Victor Talmadge. Drawn sympathetically, less boldly than the character of Ben, Leo's still-activist brother (and Emma's father), there's never any fleshing-out of an intriguing presence that never gets much past being onstage to provide a counterpoint to Ben's blustering, to give Emma a place to stay and a sympathetic ear, so the audience can hear what she—rather predictably, again—is thinking in the midst of a communication breakdown on all other fronts. 

Even the end, which seems to contradict, to leave the wrapped-up rest of the plot hanging in suspense, Emma's heart-to-heart talk with her scathingly hard line grandmother, becomes just a nod, a gesture of recognition towards what's too often irremediable in emotional and ideological misunderstandings. It would seem to certify a kind of sincerity, but unwittingly points to the absence of real conflict, how an unforeseen event also has unforeseen consequences that breed further anomalies—the heritage of our drama, from Euripides to Shakespeare, Strindberg and Pirandello to Beckett and Pinter, all very different playwrights, with very different ways of exploring the maze of human events ... 

After the Revolution, after its own promising premise, unfortunately follows the same old party line—that of the typical Problem Play on TV, or of the Sitcom—not involving its own characters or the audience enough in what makes theater a unique experience of collective self-consciousness. An exemplary production can bring out the script's very good points, a kind of schematic for a good drama, but it can't compensate for what that script was missing when it graduated from "development," bereft of the deeper note it promises to sound. 

Extended through October 6, Tuesdays through Sundays, various times. $32-$50. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, near Shattuck. 843-4822;