nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 24, 2011
Imagine what it might be like to return to society after 17 years in prison. You were convicted of a crime that you didn't commit and you've been exonerated, thanks to the wonders of DNA. But you've been locked up since the early '90s, since you were just a teenager. What might it be like to re-enter a world you don't know anything about—a world full of gadgets you don't know how to use and consumer products you've never heard of and commonplaces you never learned because, instead of going to your senior prom, you were incarcerated?
It's the kind of putting-yourself-in-someone-else's-shoes that most of us seldom do with any kind of depth or precision. But playwright Chad Beckim, in his magnificently human and sensitive play After., has accomplished just that. He's created a character here, a young man named Monty, the outline of whose story is what I've provided above. And, with director Stephen Brackett and actor Alfredo Narciso (for whom the role was written, and who inhabits Monty with uncanny specificity), he's enabling audiences to viscerally experience the jarring disconnects of a life horrendously interrupted.
What's interesting and distinctive about After. is that its focus is not on injustice or exoneration or "the system" or any of the myriad social/economic/political factors that surround a story like Monty's. Instead, Beckim explores, unwaveringly, the mundane details that occupy all of us day-to-day, everything from sleeping arrangements to getting a job to buying a toothbrush. In episodic scenes depicting Monty's first few months after his release, we witness his adjustments to a variety of circumstances that we understand are terrifying to him. We meet his sister, Liz, who has been holding down the fort without him (and, for the last few years, without their parents); his new employer Warren, a frustrated computer geek who runs—against his wishes—a doggie day care center; Chap, the prison chaplain who is essentially Monty's only friend; and Susie, a CVS drug store employee who becomes his first new friend. Underlying all of the interactions is a sense of people not listening long and hard enough to even come close to "getting" what's going on with whomever they're with: Beckim presents this as a kind of given, without judgment, but I left the play strongly feeling that this is ultimately his theme—we need to not just pay attention but really delve deeper, to hear what it is that's happening with those we care for.
There's an exchange between Monty and Liz that really encapsulated for me what After. is about. They've just gotten word that Monty will get a settlement from the state for his wrongful imprisonment; as it so often does, money brings issues and emotions previously unspoken right to the fore. In the briefest of inarticulate conversations, both characters convey—to us; maybe to each other as well, though I'm not certain of that—what their separate experiences of the past 17 years have been like. Neither of them is right and yet they're both right; and that's the power of Beckim's writing here, bringing us so incisively inside each of these characters' heads, letting us, at least for a moment, comprehend what it might be like to live with such a massive wrong as was wrought upon After.'s protagonist.
Narciso's castmates—Maria-Christina Oliveras (Liz), Debargo Sanyal (Warren), Andrew Garman (Chap), and Jackie Chung (Susie)—do splendid work here, as do fight director David Anzeulo, set designer Jason Simms, costume designer Whitney Locher, sound designer Daniel Kluger, and lighting designer Greg Goff. After., a presentation of Partial Comfort Productions (of which Beckim is co-artistic director with Molly Pearson), is indie theater at its best; and it's Beckim's finest play to date (I've been a fan of his work for about half-a-dozen years now). Check it out at the Wild Project on East 3rd Street.