In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I report on the first installment of the Amy Herzog Festival currently being presented by Baltimore’s Center Stage, a revival of After the Revolution. Here’s an excerpt.
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What does a young playwright have to do in order to be thought important? At 36, Amy Herzog appears to be well on her way to filling the bill. Though she has yet to make it to Broadway or win a Pulitzer, Herzog has written four plays that have been produced in New York and are currently being performed from coast to coast. Now Baltimore’s Center Stage, one of America’s leading regional companies, is mounting an “Amy Herzog Festival” in which her most successful plays, “After the Revolution” and “4000 Miles,” will be presented in repertory in productions directed by Lila Neugebauer. It’s the first time that the two plays, which share a central character and a common theme, have been done together.
Such an occasion is a clear sign of potential top-tier stature—and “After the Revolution,” the 2010 play that initially brought Ms. Herzog wider attention, is worthy of the treatment that Center Stage is giving it. Of all the new plays that I’ve reviewed in this space, “After the Revolution” is one of the half-dozen that impressed me most on first viewing, and it’s just as good the second time around.
Life is forever handing juicy plots to writers, but what they do with them is something else again. Ms. Herzog found out in 1999 that Julius Joseph, her father’s stepfather, had been a Soviet spy during World War II. (His code name was “Cautious.”) What she did with that knowledge was spin it into a play about a fictional “red-diaper” family whose senior members all have long-standing ties to the Communist Party. Emma Joseph (Ashton Heyl), the central character, is a priggish young political activist who is stunned by the revelation that Joe Joseph, her late grandfather, who lost his job in the ‘50s because of his party membership and became a progressive martyr, spied for the Russians and lied to Congress about it. Worse yet, the rest of her family, including Vera (Lois Markle), Emma’s beloved grandmother, knew all along—and lied to her about it…..
What is most striking about “After the Revolution” is that Ms. Herzog has dissected the follies of the Josephs not with splenetic outrage but with cool, crisp detachment. Her dialogue glitters with the knowing wit of a sharp-eyed observer familiar with all the ins and outs of the cozy milieu about which she writes. And while no one gets off easy, least of all the chokingly earnest Emma, Ms. Herzog makes us laugh at her characters instead of stooping to preachiness—which adds to the climactic force with which she finds them all, Emma included, guilty of complacency in the first degree.
Ms. Neugebauer, who directed the Signature Theatre Company’s excellent 2014 revival of A.R. Gurney’s “The Wayside Motor Inn,” has staged “After the Revolution” with identical skill. Under her sensitive guidance, Center Stage’s first-rate cast appears to be not an ensemble but a flesh-and-blood family whose members are joined at the hip by love and frustration—and anger….
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Read the whole thing here.
Scenes from Playwrights Horizon’s 2010 New York premiere of After the Revolution: