Family secrets surface in at ‘After the Revolution’ at Curious Theatre

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Strains of “Teach Your Children” play in the background as lights go up on a striking two-story set with old brick apartment walls, hundreds of books and a stairstep bookcase connecting the levels.

Curious Theatre opened its 16th season with “After the Revolution” by up-and-coming young American playwright Amy Herzog, a play about generations of a New York Marxist family and a secret that comes to light.

Ben Joseph (Gordon McConnell) is talking about the school where he teaches history and social justice, criticizing the principal. His audience is his brother Leo (Mark Collins), on sabbatical working on a book. Enter their assertive mother Vera (Anne Oberbroeckling), who is opinionated, hard of hearing and a wonderfully colorful character.

There is talk of the departed Joe Joseph, famous Marxist, father and husband and of his granddaughter Emma, who has started a foundation in his name for social causes. It seems a new book is coming out from Yale Press that accuses Joe of spying for the Russians, a story Emma doesn’t know. How should they tell her? How will it affect her life and her foundation?

Emma Joseph (Lauren Bahlman) and her boyfriend Miguel (Matthew Block) talk about the foundation where he also works and a campaign to help a black man in prison, accused of shooting a cop. She also meets with a wealthy donor, Morty (Jim Hunt).

When Emma arrives at her parents’ home, her father tells her that her grandfather is named as an ideological Communist who gave secrets to Russia in the new book and that the family won’t contest it because it is true. She is shattered and angry and the story takes off from there, focusing on individual characters’ reactions and responses — and a compelling look at family dynamics as they process a significant period in recent history.

Also in the strong cast: Dee Covington as Ben’s compassionate wife and Jessica Roblee as Emma’s sister Jess, who is afflicted by addiction problems.

The well-written script takes us through a few days in May and June 1999, with a troubled family of intellectuals, who are swamped by emotional stress, triggered because the family patriarch was blacklisted years earlier.

The acting is uniformly strong, thoughtfully directed by Chip Walton. Bahlman and Oberbroeckling particularly stand out. Background music is carefully chosen and lighting enhances the fine set. All in all, a very satisfying evening of theater as we meet a new writer.