MAKING A POINT Buirski and Gracia.
Family pressures are troublesome enough in the best of circumstances, but when they involve politics they can blow off the roof. Amy Herzog's After the Revolution adds questions of family loyalty and the nature of betrayal in a strong production at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre (through October 14), directed by Tony Estrella.
It's the summer of 1999 in New York and Boston, in the living rooms of family members of the late Joe Joseph. He was a lifelong Marxist activist, which is no problem for two generations of his offspring, who are also heartily progressive. But a book about to be published spends two pages claiming that their patriarch, blacklisted in the early 1950s, not only waved a fist at capitalism but also handed classified information to the Russians when he was in military intelligence during WWII.
This comes as a shock to Emma Joseph (Diana Buirski). (There is no mention of her obviously being named after turn-of-the-20th-century anarchist Emma Goldman, a wink at lefties and history majors in the audience.) A recent graduate from a prestigious law school, she heads a fund named after her grandfather, which is trying to free a former Black Panther on death row, so she obviously will lose support and contributions when word gets out.
The only shock to her father, Ben (Jim O'Brien), is that the family secret will soon be revealed. Emma is furious at him for not telling her about her heritage, not even when he knew she was going to name her organization after a spy. He is an inner-city high school history teacher. Serving as the play's slight comic relief, he aches so for politically correct bona fides that he brags how Emma has been dating two Latinos in a row. When he speaks on the phone to her current boyfriend, Miguel (Ben Gracia), he pronounces his name with a Spanish lilt.
As skillfully as Buirski and O'Brien convey their respective modes of agitated and fatuous intensity, Wendy Overly's concentrated displeasure as Emma's step-grandmother Vera is a menacing, grumbling volcano that never quite explodes. A quietly chilling performance. Her husband Joe died only a year and a half earlier, and she is fiercely protective of his personal and political memory. She may be losing her hearing, but she has the sense to notice disrespect.
Other family members fuss around the edges of the story. As Emma's stepmother Mel, Casey Seymour Kim supplies a cheerful leavening to the proceedings. She and Ben's brother Leo (Chuck Reifler), a sociology professor at Tufts, know to salute the proper progressive causes, but their commitments are minimal. As for Emma's sister Jess (Karen Carpenter), she provides a sounding board and sympathetic ear, but being caught in a revolving door to rehab, her advice is distracted. When Emma gets further on the outs with her family, Jess is delighted to be the relatively white sheep in the family for the first time in her life.