“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.
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.
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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