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Off Broadway

59E59’s After Shoots Straight to the Troubled Heart of the Matter

59E59’s After Shoots Straight to the Troubled Heart of the Matter

Before“, “During“, and then After; the triptych set-up of Michael McKeever’s clever new timely play ramps up the energy and suspense with precision and smarts. It starts out with a God of Carnage patterned creation, with one couple being invited over to another’s home to talk, like civilized adults and parents, about the ‘incident‘, an attack that happened between their very different high school sons. As McKeever did so well in the deeply touching Daniel’s Husband, he infuses heightened tension and current issue drama into every well constructed moment, slowly offering out the details of what is going down in well paced shots. He places very topical issues inside the very fibers of the action, and gives them moments to breath and break through. It’s thoughtful and brittle in its humanity, covering the bases of each interaction with clarity, but not dousing the drama, at least not too often, with diatribes that remove us from the heart of the matter.

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L-R: Denise Cormier, Bill Phillips, Michael Frederic. Photo by John Quilty Photography.

As directed with sharp skill by Joe Brancato, who also helmed the slightly better Daniel’s Husband as well as Tryst and Cobb off-Broadway, the parental battle begins in very much the same way that God of Carnage throws together these two off balanced couples. The kids in conflict are older, and the hits made are more textual and abstract, but the ferocity of the parent’s protective positioning is as real and clear as ever.  There is the added ingredient of a possible abstract threat made from one teenage son to another, not face to face, but through iMessages and social media.  When a mutual family friend and a sister of one, played strongly by the engaging Jolie Curtsinger (59E59’s The Fall to Earth), is dragged into the well-appointed living room, courtesy of the thoughtful set designer Brian Prather (off-Broadway’s Heartbreak House), the dynamics shift away from the other Broadway play into another parallel universe, one that has a few surprises and layers to its way.

Curtsinger’s Val has been invited to play an intrinsic moderator for the two parental units, and with her as referee, the dynamic crashing of morals and ethics of mothers, sons, and fathers fires away. The living room, beautifully lit by Martin E. Vreeland (TACT’s Lost in Yonkers) says everything you need to know about Julia Campbell, well crafted with exacting detail by Mia Matthews (MTC’s Mizlansky/Zilinsky), and her very busy and important husband, Tate, deftly portrayed by Michael Frederic (The Mint’s The Lucky One). The deer’s head and the rifles lined up on display are leading and misleading, in a way, but the power to incite is clearly there. The invited couple seems to come from not exactly the same echelon but somewhere close by. Connie Beckman, played with prickly purpose by Denise Cormier (National Tour of The Graduate), has an intense and judgmental stance with an edge of confrontational haughtiness. Void of casual banter, she, with her overly polite husband, Alan, played with subtle pointedness by Bill Phillips (Penguin’s The Immigrant) by her side cautiously, comes out swinging. The text sent to her son is alarming, especially when it is finally spoken out loud, ringing true in its harshness. The complexity of the uncomfortable situation is authentic and very emotionally charged, especially in their presentation thanks to all involved, and even when the speeches start to get a bit overly symbolic and cliché, it’s Phillips’ Alan who finally, within his powerfully aimed proclamation, states the reality of the stance. It’s the well written structure that all else will be built upon, and that is only just the beginning.

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Jolie Curtsinger, Mia Matthews. Photo by John Quilty Photography.

After follows through, with an alarming ‘During’, leading us to a thrilling and complicated conclusion in its third section, ‘After’. The well formulated costuming by Gregory Gale (Broadway’s Rock of Ages) states their placement emotionally and financially with intelligence, and helps lead us through. It’s clear who each and every one of these people are in the schema of the suburban neighborhood they all somehow inhabit. McKeever makes sure the Republican politics are sliced away, almost too easily and cleanly, leaving the social issues firmly inside their prospective arenas that include bullying and homophobia, along with a few others.  The play sometimes is overcome with overt sentimentality and characters flipping almost into caricatures of the stereotypes that they wisely inhabit, but even within the overly written moments of contrived orations, there is an essence of clear purpose and a thoughtful curiosity. The authenticity of their emotionality shoots strongly, especially in the well-orchestrated use of the wise sister and her involvement in the proceedings. She’s the one we can really relate to, as if she’s the bystander and the common denominator that is ‘us’ in disguise. After has a lot to say about this American world we live in, using the same arguments to firmly oppose one another in a standoff that is almost unresolveable. The fight is real, and the battle cry is strong, with McKeever trying hard, and mostly succeeding, in shocking and alarming us with his graduated delivery of the elements. Take in the three-part one-act 90 minute play, and feel yourself getting pulled and pushed around by the alarming and complex punches to the gut. Surprising yourself that you might not know where this is going, and when you finally arrive in the After, you’re still perplexed in your positioning.

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L-R: Mia Matthews, Michael Frederic, Bill Phillips in AFTER at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by John Quilty Photography

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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