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A CurtainUp Review
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does present certain challenges for the reviewer who doesn’t want to spoil any theatergoer’s experience. So let it be said, that Monty, who has been incarcerated for 17 years, left home a teenager and comes back a bitter man who has no knowledge of how to live in the real world.
Monty (sensitively portrayed by Alfredo Narciso) is not without support. His sister Liz (Maria-Christina Oliveras) and his friend Chad (Andrew Garman) repeatedly try to bring Monty out of himself, despite his rebuffing of their efforts. Warren (Debargo Sanyal), Monty’s computer geek employer at the pet shop where he gets a job (while in jail Monty trained service dogs), fares much better. Susie (Jackie Chung), an overly exuberant and talkative CVS employee Monty meets while trying to buy a toothbrush, manages to capture his affections, although his impotency is a major obstacle in their relationship.
Warren and Susie are well-developed and comic characters, and Sanyal and Chung work heroically to bring them to life. They are both too extravagant, quirky and similar to be entirely believable, although they do provide much comic relief.
After was created and produced by Partial Comfort Productions, a collaborative ensemble founded in 2002 by Beckim and Molly Pearson. Last year the company’s A Bright New Boise garnered a Drama Desk nomination and an Obie Award. Company member Stephen Brackett directs this probing study of the difficulties inherent in picking up the threads of a life that has unravelled.
Beckim writes powerful dialogue, whether it is funny or poignant, but sometimes he lets his scenes go on too long, way after he has made his point. The actual scene changes, however, are handily accomplished thanks to a sliding flat and a spare but evocative set created by Jason Simms.
Throughout the play Chad encourages Monty to answer the letters of a certain Laura Miller, whose testimony convicted Monty. But Monty’s relationship with Laura is never explained. All we know is that Monty is not ready to deal with his past or find closure. Is this because the pain of the past is a sore that will never heal or merely due to the fact that Monty has nothing to say to this woman and there is no reason to revisit the past?
For a while it seems that Beckim has written himself into a hole. Then just when you’re wondering how this will all end, an old boyfriend of Susie’s appears at the pet shop. If violence doesn’t solve problems in real life, it can certainly solve a playwright’s dilemma.
But not really. The problem here, as with much of the play, is that the ending seems contrived and unnecessarily ambiguous. What’s more, the last scene is devoted to Susie explaining her actions rather than telling the audience what’s happening to Monty. The play’s lack of sentimentality may garner much praise in an age when cynicism reigns and compensate for its somehow unsatisfying ending. Beckim and and Brackett do get us deeply involved with these characters.
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