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After The Revolution
The time is 1999. Grandpa Joe is dead but his memory and his name is evoked often by the Joseph family. Not the least by his fast-talking firebrand granddaughter Emma (in an excellent performance by Megan Anderson) who has just graduated from a New York law school. The family gathers at the New York home of Joe's widow, Grandma Vera (nicely played with intelligence and understanding by Nancy Robinette), to celebrate, to talk about the past and Emma's future. She is setting up and running a fund to help those who have suffered an injustice, such as the former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal who is accused of having killed a cop. Whether or not he is guilty concerns Emma less than the fact that he was denied a fair trial.
Emma's fund is named for Grandpa Joe whose politics were driven by the desire to create change where he thought it was needed -- for workers, women, and blacks. His idealism and communist activism led to his being blacklisted by the House on Un-American Activities. One and two generations later that makes him a pc hero. His sons – Leo (Jeff Allin) a professor who is writing a book and Ben (Peter Birkenhead), Emma's father who teaches high school and riles the PTA with his left-wing politics – revere their father and stepmother Vera who wanted nothing more than to support Joe and his causes. Her remarks about the differences between the politics of the Cold War and those of the 1990's are poignant. "You can look back and say we did this wrong or we did that wrong, the point is it was for something," says Grandma who finds Emma's generation, but not Emma, apathetic.
As Emma begins her crusading work, a literary bombshell is about to explode. A book on the Venona Project – an operation run by British and U.S. Intelligence services which retroactively cracked Soviet spy codes -- documenting the activities of Soviet spies, such as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, is about to be published. Its revelations -- particularly the grandfather's perjury when denying he was a Soviet spy, already known by some Joseph family members -- cause family discord and could be devastatingly damaging to Emma's fund.
There's no scarcity of conflict in Amy Herzog's very fine, thought-provoking play. Father/daughter, brother/brother, sister/sister, boss/employee, girl friend/boy friend, personal gain/the greater good, truth/idealism. And under director Eleanor Holdridge there isn't a false note. The cast is good, dominated, as it should be, by Megan Anderson in a very fine performance as the strong-willed and well-intentioned Emma. As the grandmother whose hearing is failing but memory is clear, Nancy Robinette particularly the grandfather's perjury when denying he was a Soviet spy – reveals how times and generations differ. In smaller roles, Susan Rome as Mel Joseph, Emma's stepmother, is alternately funny and psychologically astute, while James Slaughter, as Morty, the money-man behind Emma's fund, charmingly and amusingly steals every scene he is in. His is a small role fleshed out beautifully. Misha Kachman's set uses the color red evocatively and Andrew Cissna's lighting creates just the right mood for the play's varied locales.
As it did when it first premiered in Williamstown and then Off-Broadway, After the Revolution holds your attention and makes you think. If that is what you want from two hours in a theater, then this is a very good play to see.