Parents generally try to raise their kids in their own image, striving to shape in them “proper” morals, ideals and even political leanings. These traits almost inevitably reflect their parents’ opinions and perceptions.
Parents tread a fine line when they occasionally omit certain facts; they may present a destructively one-sided point of view, even when they intend is only to shield their children from the horrors of reality.
In Next Theatre’s production of Amy Herzog’s insightful family drama, “After the Revolution,” the playwright explores the swiftly shifting landscape of a recent law school grad and her socialist, intellectual family. Set in New York and Boston in 1999, the play introduces far-left-leaning liberal Emma (Christine Stulik), who aspires to run a not-for-profit law firm. The firm would help people she believes duped by the system, such as convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black Panther whose trial was alleged by many to have been marred by racist undertones.
Besides the wealthy, socially conscious benefactors who fund Emma’s firm, her greatest supporters, initially, are her family members. Her father, Ben (Mick Weber from Next’s “Madagascar”), wears Che Guevara t-shirts and teaches inner-city kids at a Brooklyn high school. The only way he could be slightly more proud of his daughter, says Emma’s recovering-addict sister, Jess (Dana Black), is if Emma’s Latino boyfriend, Miguel (Marvin Quijada), were a woman. Ben’s well-intentioned, but sometimes misguided, opinions on minorities and his staunch opposition to capitalism and the “American Way” lead him to deliver impassioned monologues, which Mr. Weber delivers with eloquence and just the right amount of zealousness. Ben’s brother, Leo (Phil Ridarelli), even wishes his apolitical, “jock” children shared Emma’s desire to fight the system.
Finally, it is her Grandmother Vera, played perfectly by the immeasurably talented MaryAnn Thebus (whose Next performance in “The Piano Teacher” was also exceptional), butts heads with Emma after a family secret is revealed about good old Grandpa Joe.
It so happens that a book – based on the actual book by J.E. Haynes and H. Klehr, “Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America” – is about to be released. It will disclose that Grandpa Joe Joseph – based on actual American Communist Julius Joseph – was a spy for the Soviets. This revelation about the man Emma idolized and whose worldview she adopted, along with the disheartening fact that her family deliberately hid this knowledge from her, causes all facets of her life – her job, her relationship, her family bond – to crumble around her.
“After the Revolution” is a remarkable production by Next Theatre, connecting the audience to a host of moral and political issues through the context of a very palpable family drama. The ensemble cast is brilliant, and includes Chicago acting legend Mike Nussbaum in a small but memorable part, and in the very capable hands of director Kimberly Senior (“The Overwhelming” at Next) the action breathes life. This production navigates the murky waters explored by Amy Herzog’s script – among them the difficulty that exists in raising children, wherein there are never easy answers. This is so especially when, as in this play, it involves them reaching conclusions at odds with a parent whose conviction is his very essence.
“After the Revolution” runs through May 13 at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street. Tickets are available at 847-475-1875 x2 or at www.nexttheatre.org.