Michael McKeever’s harrowing play “After” unfolds in three parts, Before, During and After, and runs 90 minutes without an intermission. A superb five-member ensemble grippingly advances a story involving two families steeped in the challenges of parenting and in the difficulty of knowing what their children at school may be up to. The point is also made about parents needing to be aware of the examples they are setting.
This New York City premiere is presented by Penguin Rep Theatre and Inproximity Theatre Company. The action takes place today in a suburban home in America’s Northeast. The residence is that of the elegant Julia Campbell (Mia Matthews), and her husband, Tate (Michael Frederic). The Campbells are well-off financially, but we soon detect issues in the household.
They are visited by another couple, less financially secure Connie Beckman (Denise Cormier) and her husband Alan (Bill Phillips), casual friends with the Campbells for many years. Connie and Bill are there to express their anger at an e-mail the teenage son of the Campbells sent to their son saying, “Faggot, you’re next.” This is perceived as a serious threat and the Beckmans want the boy expelled. The Campbell parents don’t take this as seriously. Unexpectedly present is Val Wallace (Jolie Curtsinger), Julia’s outspoken sister, and Connie objects to her being there.
The dialogue is snippy, especially on the part of the very angry Connie. Before the play is over, there will be family secrets exposed, as well as the behavior of the youngsters that turns out to be much more complicated than expected. We will also learn of a tragedy, retribution and an odd method of explanation as to what really happened between the boys.
The concept of violence is inferred at the outset. Connie resents the trophy animal head mounted on the wall. There is also a rack of rifles reflecting Tate’s penchant for hunting. Only later do we learn that Alan has also had a gun at home.
Without specific spoilers, I can say that the play is smartly tuned into what can happen in schools today between kids, often involving bullying. Joe Brancato’s direction proceeds with mounting intensity in sync with the playwright’s build-up to all of the revelations and beyond. There is smart final focus on a crucial letter left on a coffee table. Will Julia decide to open it?
What makes everything work well is the collection of terrific performances by cast members who make their characters vivid and compelling. Audience members are left with their own judgments, but the playwright makes clear that parental actions or inactions can be crucial, and there can be serious consequences. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 646-892-7999. Reviewed March 18, 2019.