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Zoe Kazan, one of New York’s finest under-40 actors, is also a playwright and screenwriter of uncommon talent. “Ruby Sparks,” her first screenplay, was a romcom with a feminist edge that had something exceedingly thoughtful to say about the tendency of men to idealize women instead of accepting them as they really are. “After the Blast,” Ms. Kazan’s fourth stage play, is as thoughtful and well-made as “Ruby Sparks,” and it pulls off the bedazzling feat of taking a hyper-politicized topic—climate change—and using it as the occasion for a taut, sermon-free drama whose true subject is, once again, the inability of men and women to see each other plain.
“After the Blast” is a science-fiction play, a dystopian fantasy set in “the near future” whose eight characters include a robot. The premise, which Ms. Kazan leaves suggestively vague, is that the surface of the earth has been laid waste by a nuclear exchange that punched more holes in the ozone layer, thus forcing a saving remnant of highly intelligent men and women to move underground while everyone else is left to starve. The male survivors, most of whom are scientists, then devote themselves to fixing the environment, while the women mostly look after them and bear their children—but only if the Council, a deceptively soft technological tyranny, decides that they should be allowed to reproduce….
Ms. Kazan introduces us to her principal characters, a married couple named Anna (Cristin Milioti) and Oliver (William Jackson Harper) who are, as he explains in the first scene, “still waiting to receive Fertility.” They have only one chance left to pass the test and become parents, for Anna suffers from a potentially disqualifying case of depression caused by her inability to cope with the stresses of underground life.
In order to coax Anna back to emotional health, Oliver brings home a “Helper,” a home-assistance robot that must, he tells her, be trained to interact with humans so that it can be placed in the homes of older people who are no longer capable of living alone. In the process of teaching the robot how to talk, Anna bonds with it…
Ayad Akhtar’s “Junk” is a parable of late capitalism whose villain-in-chief is a junk-bond salesman named, none too discreetly, “Robert Merkin” (Steven Pasquale). It’s performed at breakneck speed by a budget-busting cast of 23 actors, an ensemble so huge that it would have taken a Tom Stoppard—or a Shakespeare—to portray the individual characters as anything other than stick figures. Mr. Akhtar is talented, but not that talented…
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To read my review of After the Blast, go here.
To read my review of Junk, go here.
A montage of scenes from After the Blast:
A montage of scenes from Junk: