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BWW Reviews: All in the Family: AFTER THE REVOLUTION

At first glance, Amy Herzog's play, "After the Revolution," now at Baltimore Center Stage, would seem to be an examination of heavy-duty political ideals. The forces of history swirl around the stage, the specters of Karl Marx, Josef Stalin, "Red Scare" Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Black Panthers, never seen, but always present throughout this two-hour play.

But that's all incidental, just a mere device for getting at the real meat of the matter, which, in this case, is family.

Meet the Josephs. There's Ben (Arye Gross), the eternal revolutionary in the Che Guevara t-shirt who teaches at a local university, and Mel (Susan Rome), the supportive wife who is often drowned out by her husband's Lenin-esque speechifying. Mark Zeisler portrays Ben's brother, Leo, who cares a bit more about family bonds than political ones, and Lois Markle plays Vera, the brusque and brittle family matriarch and staunch preserver of her husband, Joe's, memory.

Ben's daughter, Emma (Ashton Heyl) also a Joe Joseph supporter, heads a fund named after her grandfather with the mission of freeing prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal (a real-life former Black Panther convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer) whose conviction was tainted with racial bias and lack of due process.

But here's the tricky wicket. The since-passed-on patriarch, Joe Joseph, a man who dared face the wrath of the 1950's McCarthy-Communist-witchhunt hearings, might not have had a completely spotless war record (cue references to the Rosenbergs, the real life couple sentenced to death in 1951 for espionage).

How this news is revealed and the impact it has upon the Joseph family is the electric charge that powers the action on stage.

"After the Revolution" explores how people examine a moment in time which is the stuff of history texts and documentaries for one generation, and searing life memories for another.

Herzog's play is also one of loss and betrayal...the loss of a loved one, of illusions, of innocence, and the betrayal that comes to all of us who attempt to be true to pure ideals in a world where reality is anything but (there's a particularly riveting scene where Vera finds herself defending mass murderer Josef Stalin).

As one might expect of a Center Stage production, director Lila Neugebauer illicits top flight performances out of the cast; the pain Ben (Gross) feels at being torn between a father's love for his daughter and a son's love for his father is palpable. Heyl does a fine job in crafting a rather unlikable character who seems to care more about ideas than she does people and remains somewhat blind to the dichotomy of embracing a communist ideology while living a capitalist "upper West side" life. Alejandro Rodriguez plays Miguel Roa, Emma's love interest and her employee; despite a rather limited role, Rodriguez carries it well, portraying a man who's eye is firmly on the prize, though what that prize ultimately is may not be what Emma believes it to be.

However, actor Peter Van Wagner as Joseph family friend, Morty, and Kelly McCrann as Emma's "in-revolving-door-rehab" addict sister, Jess, steal the show with their brief, but lively scenes. Van Wagner, a veteran actor of films and television as well as the stage, is sage and sprite simultaneously, offering fatherly advice to Emma one moment, while jockeying for a date with Vera the next. McCrann clearly has fun as Jess, who finds herself in the unfamiliar-but-delightful role of being the "good" sister, given Emma's family struggles, and her father's happiness at learning Jess is, in fact, a lesbian- a sexual orientation that Ben finds more ecumenical and therefore appealing to his Marxist nature.

Center Stage presents "After the Revolution" as part of the "Amy Herzog Festival Performances" which also includes performances of Herzog's "4000 Miles," a followup to "Revolution" which is set a decade later with Vera in the protagonist role. The Amy Herzog Festival continues now through May 24th. For more information, visit www.centerstage.org or call 410-332-0033.


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From This Author Daniel Collins