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After the Revolution

It's a rare piece of theatre that is willing to look at events through the lens of officially prohibited political and economic analysis, but Curious Theatre has boldly ventured into such an alternate universe, and triumphed, as we see in the regional premiere of Amy Herzog's After the Revolution, directed by producing artistic director Chip Walton.

(Left to right) Gordon McConnell as Ben, Dee Covington as Mel, and Mark Collins as Leo
(L to R) Gordon McConnell as Ben,
Dee Covington as Mel,
and Mark Collins as Leo
Photo: Michael Ensminger
The arc of three generations of Josephs—spanning the Great Depression, World War II, and through the tail end of Clinton's presidency in 1999—begins with grandpa Joe (an economist for the Office of Strategic Services and a member of the Communist Party USA), and his second wife, Vera (Anne Oberbroeckling), and carries forward with his sons, Ben (Gordon McConnell) and Leo (Mark Collins), Ben's second wife, Mel (Dee Covington), Ben's children, Emma (Lauren Bahlman) and Jess (Jessica Robblee), Emma's boyfriend, Miguel (Matthew Black), and the benefactor of Emma's foundation, Morty (Jim Hunt).

Matthew Block as Miguel and Lauren Bahlman as Emma
Matthew Block as Miguel
and Lauren Bahlman as Emma
Photo: Michael Ensminger
This is a brave piece of writing, with Herzog challenging traditional U.S. civics class propaganda as well as old left sacred cows. As we hear from the surviving family members, grandpa Joe was called before Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where he denied passing (a vague set of) state secrets to the Soviets. This was, according to the timeline, a few weeks before the Rosenbergs were executed, presumably for passing data that enabled the Soviets to build an atomic bomb and break the U.S. monopoly on nuclear weapons.1 It should be noted that during this time, the Soviet were allies of the U.S.; though, as the CIA's hiring of former-Nazi agents (doubling its size!) with expertise in Soviet affairs makes clear: the U.S. (as a proxy for the international bankers) was preparing for a cold war against what it would characterize as "the Red threat."2 Little did it matter that the Soviets (or the Chinese, for that matter) were no more communists than the U.S. was a democracy or a republic: The commissars ruled like the czars, just as Mao ruled like the Mings; the political and economic fabric of Russia and China is authoritarianism; whereas, Communism is a decentralized political and economic philsophy that has never existed in practice, outside of a few experiments, such as spiritual orders, the kibbutzim, or the Isle of Youth (Cuba). And the U.S.? A vassal of the same banks that control today's Russia and China, despite what you may read or hear from the banks' media.

(Left to right) Lauren Bahlman as Emma and Jessical Robblee as Jess
(Left to right) Lauren Bahlman as Emma
and Jessical Robblee as Jess
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Nevertheless, Joe's granddaughter, Emma, and her father, Ben, suffer the central existential crises of the drama, when previously unknown information regarding Joe is revealed in a new book. Their conflict, which spills over into the rest of the family, focuses on whether Joe's actions were morally justifiable at the time and whether such motivations are understandable at the end of the 20th century, or the beginning of the 21st, for that matter.

As Emma, Bahlman dials into the idealism of one still caught inside the box of civic myths—the rule of law, democracy, representative government, etc.—thus serving as the audience's stand-in, her commitment to this point-of-view driving the tension of the story and bringing Emma into conflict with almost everyone. Emma's consumption with her grandpa Joe's newly revealed actions distracts her from her own cause and brings her to the brink with Miguel, who never wavers in his commitment to the same cause (an African American charged with murder). Black's genial, but focused Miguel serves as ironic example for Emma, though she fails to see the parallels in Miguel's and Joe's positions, in a sense rejecting her grandfather twice. In another ironic turn, Emma's bad girl sister, Jess, ends up being the daughter who helps bring the family back together. Robblee deftly reconciles Jess' disparate personae and metamorphoses into the most well-adjusted Joseph.

Lauren Bahlman as Emma and Jim Hunt as Morty
Lauren Bahlman as Emma
and Jim Hunt as Morty
Photo: Michael Ensminger
McConnell's Ben is a marvel of the fine points of bygone East Village cultural and political verisimilatude, as he kvetches over Emma's misplaced assumptions and her lack of context for Joe's actions. His monologue into Emma's answering machine (remember those?) while she listens, is an anthem for those who fight fascism, in all its forms. Mel and Leo are Ben's ballasts. Convington's kind-hearted, guileless approach serves as a bridge to both Ben's and Jess' reconciliations with Emma. Collins' Leo is the most mild-mannered of the Josephs, so it's not surprising when we hear that his kids have even less of clue as to their ancestors' world than Ben's kids do.

The most substantive context is provided by Joe's contemporaries, Vera and Morty, who lived through the Depression, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, and the battles for unions, racial equality, and voting rights in the U.S. Oberbroeckling sizzles as Vera, adamant that Joe's loyalties were justified. Hunt is the cornerstone of compassion as Morty, turning the other cheek to Emma's disparaging characterizations, and then patiently explaining what it was like in the Village, the U.S., and the world when his generation reached its crossroads.

Anne Oberbroeckling as Vera
Anne Oberbroeckling as Vera
Photo: Michael Ensminger
While the play is, first and foremost, a compelling family drama about shifts in values from one generation to the next, the political and economic issues raised are as relevant today as they were one or more generations ago. Herzog does yeoman's work in getting us to see that the issues are not simple matters of loyalty to one's country. Though Herzog does not raise the issue of bank control over nations—one of the definitions of fascism is corporate control over the state, and the loss of sovereignty therefrom, which goes back hundreds of years—she does find other means for exploring a broader sense of loyalty, which becomes the crux of Ben and Emma's conflict.

To her credit, Herzog does not side with either Ben or Emma, but delivers her message via Vera, who gets the last word. Oberbroeckling delivers this coup de grâce with such conviction and dignity that we are forced to consider whether the fiery organizer for whom Emma was named is being channeled before our eyes.

Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of After the Revolution runs through October 19th. For more information: 303-623-0524 or www.curioustheatre.org.

Bob Bows

Footnotes:
1 It should be noted that not only is the U.S. the only nation to use the atomic bomb, but that it continues to wield radioactivity as a weapon, most recently in innumerable depleated uranium enriched shell casings, which are scattered across Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans. Various U.S. advisors, including Henry Kissinger, have argued for the use of "tactical nuclear weapons." Clearly, only the so-called "proliferation" of nuclear weapons prevented the U.S. from exercising nuclear blackmail, before almost all nuclear nations came under the monolithic control of the banks.
2 It is not a well known fact that Lenin was backed by the Western bankers, because Kerensky had established a publicly owned bank to go with the short-lived Russian democracy. Stalin put an end to private banks, but they returned in force later, eventually bringing down the Soviet Union.

 

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