AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Amy Herzog
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Joy Carlin
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Playwright Amy Herzog looks at what happens when an idolized ancestor turns out to have been human in "After the Revolution," staged by Aurora Theatre Company to open its 22nd season.

This two-act play focuses on three generations of the Joseph family, who proudly call themselves Marxists. Their venerated ancestor is the late Joe Joseph, a Marxist who worked for the Office of Strategic Services, a World War II forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. When he testified at a congressional hearing during the infamous communist witch hunts during the early 1950s, he denied passing U.S. secrets to Russia and refused to name possible communists, thus being blacklisted.

Now his 26-year-old granddaughter, Emma (Jessica Bates), a freshly minted law school graduate in 1999, has started the Joe Joseph Foundation dedicated to fighting injustice. When she learns that what she had been told about her grandfather isn't entirely true, she triggers a major family crisis aimed mostly at her father, Ben Joseph (Rolf Saxon), for having withheld the information from her.

His partner, Mel (Pamela Gaye Walker); his brother, Leo (Victor Talmadge); Emma's sister, Jess (Sarah Mitchell); their step grandmother, Vera (Ellen Ratner); and Emma's boyfriend, Miguel (Adrian Anchondo); all get involved in the father-daughter rift. The person who seems to be the most helpful is an outsider, 77-year-old Morty (Peter Kybart), a major donor to Emma's foundation.

Director Joy Carlin keeps the action moving briskly and has a solid cast. Bates as Emma is onstage through most of the two-act play and carries the heaviest load in a role that temporarily devolves into depression that can seem self-indulgent.

Saxon is convincing as the caring father who has to admit that he made mistakes. Talmadge as Leo and Walker as Mel come across as reasonable and caring as they try to serve as peacemakers. Mitchell's Jess is refreshingly blunt as a young woman trying to get through rehab. Ratner as Vera is feisty as she portrays an aging woman beset by difficulties hearing, walking and remembering words. Kybart embodies Morty's generosity, wisdom and sense of humor, while Anchondo is caring and then conflicted as Miguel.

Because the plot tends to be detailed, one must listen carefully. This is especially true in Aurora's intimate space, where the audience sits on three sides of the stage. If an actor is turned away from one side, he or she might be difficult to hear.

The play makes extensive use of telephone calls, especially in the second act when Ben is trying to get through to Emma. J.B. Wilson's set design plays up this device with telephone poles and wires upstage.

Sound designer Chris Houston helps to prepare the audience with protest songs from the likes of Woody Guthrie heard in the lobby and theater beforehand. The lighting is by Kurt Landisman with costumes by Callie Floor.

For the most part, "After the Revolution" is an involving drama with believable characters and circumstances.

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