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BWW Review: AFTERWORDS at The 5th Avenue Theatre

Incredible voices wasted in a cliché show.

BWW Review: AFTERWORDS at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Kerstin Anderson, Eliza Palasz, Ashley Menestrina,
Mari Nelson, Timothy Michael Keller,
Kristen deLohr Helland, and Cara Diaz
in Afterwords at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

Dear Readers, by now you know that one of my major pet peeves for any show is what I call "someone else's therapy on stage". Other people's problems just aren't interesting, and I don't need to see you work through them. Such is the first issue of many I have with the new musical "Afterwords", currently playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre. The second main issue being that the show appears to have been written with a cliché search engine.

This utterly uninteresting cliché storyline feels to have been culled from a collection of bad Lifetime Original Movies by book writer Emily Kaczmarek. Kali (played by understudy Eliza Palasz on the night I saw it) is a somewhat successful singer/songwriter who has retreated into herself. Her sister, Simone (Kerstin Anderson) is a painter who has quit art school. Both have come back to their childhood home to deal with the death of their mother Lydia (Mari Nelson), a raging alcoholic (for some reason, that's never really clear why she turned to alcohol). While the two sisters work through their grief, Jo (Anastacia McCleskey) has shown up at their home responding to an ad for a room to rent. Jo is looking to get away from her life as a war correspondent after the death of her mentor Jimmy (Brandon O'Neill), and she's taken on the task of combing through his journals to write up a farewell piece to him. Jo and Simone meet and instantly start up a relationship (because, of course they do) and Kali slowly works her way back to her writing. Oh, and in the flashbacks we see that Lydia and Jimmy were starting a romantic relationship of their own. Or they already had one. It's also unclear ... and contrived.

If the cliches that abound in this story weren't bad enough, the alcoholism, PTSD, the "I can't create my art because I'm sad" trope, and most egregiously the sassy, gay best friend of Jo's, Franklin (Saxton Jay Walker) who keeps showing up for exposition and comic relief (say something funny sassy, gay friend in your sassy, gay way), the cliches extend into the songs by Zoe Sarnak. Songs overly laden with cliché phrases like "Reading between the lines", "When words fail", and "Feeling alive". Cliches so overly used that they've lost any real meaning which amounts to our characters singing about nothing. No one really ever says anything, they just drone on about these tropes to make them feel better until they can get to their next belt moment. And belt they do as most every song is a power ballad designed to manipulate the audience into thinking something powerful has been said.

And there's another issue, manipulation. The show wants us to think it's deep and feel deep things, but the lack of any real character development along with some seriously contrived plot points that come out of left field make it so we couldn't give a flying fig about these characters. They are introduced as two dimensional, broken tropes and so we just don't care about them. And then implausible things are thrown at us to make us have some sort of "aha" moment but only amounted in me saying "Oh, I don't think so!"

BWW Review: AFTERWORDS at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Saxton Jay Walker as Franklin
in Afterwords at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

If all this weren't bad and intelligence insulting enough, the authors along with director Adrienne Campbell-Holt and choreographer Ebony Williams have included four other characters in the program who seem to be there for pretention's sake. Two characters listed in the program as "Kali's Voice" (Kirsten Delohr Helland and Timothy Michael Keller), although they don't really provide a voice for Kali as she does her own singing and only ever contribute as backup singers for her a few times so I'm not sure why they were there. And two other characters listed as "The Process" (Cara Diaz and Ashley Menestrina) who kept showing up in the highly emotional moments to perform some sort of interpretive dance moves around the actors as they sang. All four of which left me with the question "why are they there?"

It's the cast I felt sorry for here. There are some insanely talented voices on that stage belting to the rafters. But since they never really say anything or have any kind of character growth, the belts amount to little more than superior vocal talent. Which I used to joke was enough for some performers when I'd say things like "I'd be happy listening to them read from the phone book" but this show proved me wrong. You can have some immense talent on a stage, and they did, but without a good show to back them up, there is no point.

And with this show, there really is no point. No point made in the story and no point why the 5th Avenue chose to produce it. And so, when I consider all the insults endured for 2 hours and 45 minutes last night, I feel compelled to do something I haven't done in quite a while, give my three-letter rating of WTF. And lest you think I'm being hyper critical (which I know I can be) I noticed several people bailing out at intermission. I only wish I could have.

"Afterwords" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through May 21st. For tickets or information visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.



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