After the End
nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington
June 14, 2006
After a nuclear suitcase bomb explodes, Mark, a shy, socially awkward geek played by Tom Brooke, clambers through the aftermath of the explosion to rescue an unconscious Louise, his office mate and semi-secret crush, played by Loo Brealey. He rushes the unconscious Louise back to his flat, and hides them both in an old bunker buried in his garden. After the End traps Mark and Louise in the bunker as they slowly go stir-crazy, left with nothing but each other and a few cans of tinned chili. What before the disaster was an awkwardly lopsided and obsessive crush is distilled into a deft power play as Mark and Louise descend into a primitive and base struggle for their own survival.
The production is supremely well integrated, with design, direction, and acting each serving to heighten the others. The very stark and minimalist set by Miriam Buether allows the relationship of the actors to stand in stark relief. The lovely blank canvas of the set allows poignant details of the rest of the design to shine, for example ashes on Mark's hands, and the costumes instantly give me every bit of information I needed to infer what these people were like above ground. The lighting by Chahine Yavroyan works wonderfully to heighten the mood, and especially in combination with Matt McKenzie's soundscape put me directly into the mindset of the action of the play.
Dennis Kelly's script is gymnastic in its switches between principled and primitive, redemptive and reprobate, pathos and practicality, and Brooke and Brealey handle the changes masterfully. Brealey's Louise is wry and fun, and watching her descend into utter desperation is heartbreaking. And Brooke, as Mark, does an exquisite job dancing the line between pitiable and horrifying. Both actors showed me characters that I could simultaneously root for and empathize with, even while cowering behind my hands watching them behave so grossly. I found every bit of the production very detailed and nuanced, which is a testament to Roxanna Silbert's directorial choices. There is no easy road taken, and each decision seems calculated to provoke the maximum ambivalence about the morality of the characters and the situation.
In this piece about violence, I found it extraordinarily compelling that a great deal of the violence is not physicalized. The times when physical violence was used, holy cow, was it ever, which made it even more grotesque and terrifying.
I will say, the play was not at all what I had expected to go see. However, it is about a very meaty topic—how will you wield your power in the face of disaster? It is a well-executed production which did spark a great deal of post-play discussion and has kept me thinking for days.