By Sandi Durell
The topic of bullying and violence is on our minds and in our daily lives. Open a television, newspaper, internet or online publication and there it is, growling in its ugliness. However, in the artful hands of playwright Michael McKeever (Daniel’s Husband), it becomes a suspenseful journey directed with the utmost perceptive sensitivity by Joe Brancato of Penguin Rep Theatre and InProximity Theatre Company. If you’ve seen McKeever’s last play, Daniel’s Husband, you know he has a proclivity for surprise and tension.
Connie and Alan Beckman have been invited to Julia and Alan Campbell’s upscale suburban home. They have never been real friends but know each other from days past of carpooling to chess club. Prominently displayed is a deer head hanging dead center on the wall, alongside several rifles. Why the Beckmans have been summoned is yet to be determined. Julia is apologizing that her husband isn’t there yet and is busy on the phone attempting to hurry him home while walking in and out of the room. Connie is aghast at how barbaric the scene is: guns, dead animals . . . “I feel like I’m in a Ronald Reagan movie.” There is no subtlety in Connie (the matter-of-fact Denise Cormier) as her husband Alan (an intense, seemingly level headed Bill Phillips) reminds her “you can’t fight with everyone,” asking her to just be civil. But snide remarks, without filter, is who she is as their own marital battle erupts while Julia has left the room.
Julia (elegant Mia Matthews) is all about perfection and how things appear outwardly . . . so much so that we realize the human factor and its realities have somehow taken a back seat. She nervously offers water which becomes a topic of conversation – yes, no, with ice, no ice. Julia’s sister Val (likable, caring Jolie Curtsinger) has arrived, much to the Beckman’s surprise. . . albeit their sons were friends as young kids before high school. When Tate Campbell (self-assured, tough Michael Frederic) finally arrives, the story unfolds.
The warning bells have already rung by this point what with Val in the midst as a referee. The crux of the matter is that the Campbell’s son Kyle (whom Julia calls a “bit of a rebel”) sent a threatening text to Matthew the Beckman’s son calling him a faggot, stating “You’re next, faggot.” Connie and Alan are planning on asking the Principal to expel Kyle rather than a 3-day suspension as the Campbells are anticipating. The couples begin to bicker and fight as the confrontation escalates – Connie accusing the boy of being a bully and a threat. Tate attempts to lighten it up saying it was just a text, each parent doing what they naturally must – protect their own. Eventually all lose their cool and accusations fly, digging deeper into who each of them are as parents, their individual personalities, reflecting on the many reasons why this story results in its tragic ending.
The scenes change as titles above the stage reflect the Before, During and After of this suspense driven psychological drama that asks and attempts to answer questions that plague our existence.
Other than the fact that there can be some repetitious moments in this 85 minute, no intermission drama, I will leave this as a Spoiler Alert and add that the cast is uniformly wonderful and this is a play to be seen.
Photos: John Quilty Photography
After, 59e59Theaters (between Park and Madison Aves) runs thru April 14.