Aurora Theatre Company’s insightful, humorous and moving production of Amy Herzog’s, After The Revolution concerns a subject that will resonate with Berkeleyans: the leftist movement and the Communist Party of the 1940s and ’50s. The play is also about a family whose interactions are based on secrets and lies, as well as love.
Emma Joseph (great acting by Jessica Bates), the protagonist, lives in blind admiration of her deceased grandfather Joe, who bravely didn’t “name names” at Senator McCarthy’s House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings. Emma has dedicated her life to her grandfather, by establishing and leading the Joe Joseph Foundation to further the cause of principled and color-blind justice.
In the early 1950s, Senator McCarthy became the public face of those who feared that Cold War Communists were infiltrating the United States. McCarthy also asserted he had “lists of members of a spy ring” who worked in the U.S. State Department. He ruined the lives of those refusing to testify before the Committee about other supposed American Communist Party members and sympathizers, by placing their names on his “blacklist.” Once on the list, the blacklisted were ostracized and unemployable.
At the start of this outstanding two-act play, Emma learns from her family that her blacklisted grandfather, who worked for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during World War II, had spied for the Soviets and then lied about it before the HUAC.
Emma is shaken, disillusioned, appalled, humiliated, and angry with family members who withheld the truth. Emma evaluates the news about her grandfather only from her 1990s perspective. A recent law school graduate, Emma seems unhappier with her grandfather’s perjury than with his spying.
Emma is not easy to like at times. She’s high-strung and high-maintenance. She sees only black and white; nothing is nuanced. There are no subtleties of right and wrong. She lacks the ability to understand her grandfather’s activities in light of the world in which he lived.
After The Revolution is based upon the author’s own leftist family experiences. Herzog created the imperfect, yet loving, characters that comprise the three generations of the Joseph family. Emma’s doting father Ben (great work by Rolf Saxon), her blunt, wise grandmother Vera (nicely playing by Ellen Ratner), and Emma’s rehab-prone sister Jess (well acted by Sarah Mitchell), all advise Emma differently and for their own reasons (not that she would take anyone’s advice).
Distinguished Bay Area actor and director Joy Carlin (Body Awareness, Jack Goes Boating, Awake and Sing) excels as the director of After The Revolution. With an impressive cast and Amy Herzog’s superb writing, After The Revolution succeeds in its perceptive exploration of a family’s flawed love and the challenges of staying true to one’s principles.
After The Revolution’s run has been extended and will now play through October 6. For information and tickets, visit the Aurora Theatre Company online.