Theater J dives into its 2013-2014 season with the Off-Broadway success After The Revolution, by 2013 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award Winner Amy Herzog. The Wall Street Journal has named this 34-year-old powerhouse “America’s most interesting young playwright.” Herzog’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama 4000 Miles—depicting the lovingly complex relationship between aging radical Vera Joseph and her grandson—was recently a hit at The Studio Theatre. Now Theater J brings together an all-star team of artists to stage Herzog’s breakout play After The Revolution, which introduced audiences to the fascinating Joseph family.
The brilliant, promising Emma Joseph (Megan Anderson) graduates from law-school primed to follow in the footsteps of her progressive political family, particularly her recently-deceased grandfather Joe. Joe Joseph was revered for having suffered on the Blacklist rather than naming names during the Red Scare. In his name, Emma forms a legal fund, currently focused on advocating for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black-Panther and accused killer of a policeman.
Emma’s world is thrown into chaos when an upcoming book about the Venona Project reveals that Joe Joseph committed espionage for the Soviets during World War II. Emma’s father Ben (Peter Birkenhead) reluctantly reveals that he and his step-mother Vera (Nancy Robinette)—the character who also appears in 4000 Miles—have long been aware of Joe’s actions, but decided not to share that information with Emma. Shaken to her core by the discovery, Emma begins to reevaluate her family’s legacy and her own path.
In addition to After the Revolution and 4000 Miles, playwright Amy Herzog is producing a quickly-growing body of work that is making headlines at theaters around the country. Her most recent piece, Belleville, commissioned by the Yale Repertory Theatre, was produced at New York Theatre Workshop in the spring of 2013. It was a nominee for the 2013 Drama Desk Awards and a finalist for the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. In June 2013, it began a successful run at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. Her drama The Great God Pan received its 2012 premiere at Playwrights Horizons, where it was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award.
Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth remarks on the sensational playwright, “Amy Herzog’s a whip-smart writer with a keen ear and a scrupulous sense of moral complexity. With recurring themes and characters in her work, Herzog clearly has an ability to write inter-generational relationships that reveal surprisingly tender connections between characters.”
These intergenerational relationships may be rooted in Amy Herzog’s own family. American Theatre magazine’s profile about her points out that her extended family is, like the Joseph clan, a “multigenerational enclave of communists, socialists and firebrands.” Even the central conflict of After the Revolution comes from personal experience; in 1999, Amy Herzog’s blacklisted step-grandfather Joe Joseph was revealed to have given government secrets to the Soviets during WWII.
Regardless of her family’s political inclinations, Herzog demonstrates a firm commitment to presenting work that asks questions, rather than makes agit-prop declarations. In an interview with website Blouin ArtInfo, Herzog shared, “What I do in my job is really at odds with…partisanship. I spend a lot of time trying to see all sides of any issue.”
Ari Roth notes Herzog’s ability to write “all her characters with winning, down-to-earth contrariness full of twists and turns and internal complications. Our heroes are not as heroic as we thought them to be, and our righteous crusades are not always so neatly defined. More frequently, in Amy Herzog’s dramaturgy, life is rendered in finely calibrated nuance. She’s an unsentimental realist with a warm embrace of the world.”
Herzog’s unwillingness to shy away from complicated, multifaceted characters and issues makes her an excellent fit for Theater J’s season of Crucial Questions, Critical Fault Lines, and Necessary Conversations.
Roth elaborates, “This is the perfect play to launch a season where we’ll see how landscapes of deeply polarizing politics are transformed by revelations about the past; how perceptions of history are continually being challenged by journalism and scholarship; how we have no choice but to recalibrate our sense of what is right and what is true in the wake of new knowledge. When we first meet Emma Joseph, she is admirable in her youthful political convictions, but she’s upended by revelations about her family’s heroic patriarch. The new findings temper Emma’s fund-raising zeal; they cause her to re-question the cause célèbre she’s been so ardently defending. Will Emma walk away from her life’s calling?”
This new female voice finds an apt Director in Eleanor Holdridge. After the Revolution will be Holdridge’s third project at Theater J bringing women’s voices to the stage. Her most recent Theater J collaboration was the hit benefit performance of Nora Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Previously, she opened Theater J’s 2012-2013 season with a hit production of Annie Baker’s Body Awareness. Other Theater J credits include the 2010-2011 season opener Something You Did, and a number of readings of new work.
Eleanor Holdridge’s select regional credits include Double Indemnity at Roundhouse Theatre; The Gaming Table at Folger Theatre; Pygmalion and God of Carnage at Everyman Theatre; Zorro at Constellation Theatre and Much Ado About Nothing with the Taffety Punk Riot Grrrls. Like Herzog, Holdridge holds an MFA from Yale School of Drama. She has held positions as Artistic Director for the Red Heel Theatre Company, Resident Assistant Director at the Shakespeare Theatre, Resident Director at New Dramatists, and currently heads the Directing Department at Catholic University.
Holdridge leads a stellar ensemble, including DC favorite, five-time Helen Hayes Award-winning actress Nancy Robinette as Vera Joseph. The character of Vera may be familiar to DC audiences from the recent, loving portrayal by another DC legend, Tana Hicken, in Studio’s 4000 Miles. Nancy Robinette made her Theater J debut as Gingy in the 2013 benefit production of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. She also recently appeared in August: Osage County at Everyman Theatre. Other Washington area credits include Government Inspector, The Rivals, The Little Foxes and Heir Apparent at The Shakespeare Theatre Company; Ah, Wilderness! and Death of a Salesman at Arena Stage and Frozen and Souvenir (Helen Hayes Award) at The Studio Theatre. Other credits include Diary of Anne Frank at Papermill Playhouse; Twelfth Night at the McCarter Theatre; and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Waterfront Playhouse. She has been nominated for the Helen Hayes Award 17 times.
Playing the conflicted protagonist Emma, is Megan Anderson, in her Theater J debut. A company member at Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre, she recently moved audiences with her appearance in The Beaux Strategem and God of Carnage. She has performed leading roles in a number of Everyman productions, including Jan in Fifty Words, Una in Blackbird, Catherine in Proof (for which she received the Greater Baltimore Theatre Award) and Abigail in The Crucible. DC-area credits include The Faculty Room at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Rabbit Hole at Olney Theatre and Our Town at Round House Theatre.
Susan Rome begins her year as Theater J’s Associate Artist in Residence as Emma’s step-mother Mel Joseph. Susan Rome’s last Theater J appearance was in 2011’s The Moscows of Nantucket, for which The Washington Post praised her “endearingly prickly” performance for its ability to “truthfully convey the challenge of how one offers love from the sidelines.” Previous to that, she appeared at Theater J in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, The Last Seder and Spring Forward, Fall Back. Also a company member at Baltimore Centerstage, Rome was recently in their productions of Mud Blue Sky and An Enemy of the People. Ms. Rome may also be recognized from her recurring role as DA Ilene Nathan on HBO’s The Wire.
Peter Birkenhead takes on the role of Emma’s father Ben. Last seen at Theater J in Speed the Plow in 2007, Birkenhead returns to the stage after a brief respite to pursue his writing career. His illustrious acting career includes appearances on Broadway in Laughter On The 23rd Floor, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound (for which he also did the National Tour). His other National Tours include Angels in America and Biloxi Blues.
Playing Emma’s uncle Leo Joseph is Jeff Allin, who most recently impressed DC audiences with his passionate performance as Jaffy in Forum Theatre’s Clementine in the Lower Nine. Other recent credits include Young Robin Hood at Round House Theatre and Othello at the Folger Theatre, as well as the August Wilson Festival at the Kennedy Center. Outside of the DC area, he has appeared on Broadway in David Hare’s Plenty and in Richard Greenberg’s Everett Beekin at Lincoln Center.
James Slaughter joins the cast as Morty, the primary donor to Emma’s fund. A favorite at Olney Theatre, Slaughter has appeared there in An Enemy of the People (Helen Hayes nomination for best Supporting Actor), Bus Stop, Mornings at Seven, A Question of Mercy, Therese Raquin and Omnium Gatherum, among many others. He has also performed locally at The Kennedy Center, The Shakespeare Theatre, The Studio Theatre, Arena Stage and Round House Theatre. He appeared off-Broadway with the Blue Light Company in Barker’s Scenes from an Execution and on network television in Homicide and the title role in the PBS special The Music of Thomas Morley.
Completing the cast are Elizabeth Jernigan, as Emma’s sister Jess, and Carlos Saldaña, as Emma’s boyfriend Miguel. Elizabeth Jernigan last appeared on the Theater J stage as Reyzele in Passing the Love of Women. Recent DC appearances include Pride and Prejudice at Round House Theatre, The Way of the World at The Shakespeare Theatre and Is He Dead at Olney Theater. Carlos Saldana makes his Theater J debut after recently appearing in GALA Hispanic Theatre’s DC7: The Roberto Clemente Story. He also recently appeared in The Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audience’s The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, and collaborated with Eleanor Holdridge in Constellation Theatre’s Zorro.
The designers for After The Revolution will create the multiple locations and tones of the piece. Misha Kachman (Race, Our Class) will design the set, while Timothy Jerome Jones (The Hampton Years) will design properties. The play will also feature original music composed by Matthew M. Nielson (The Hampton Years, The History of Invulnerability). Costumes, Lights and Sound will be designed (respectively) by Theater J newcomers Kendra Rai, Andrew Cissna and Patrick Calhoun.
After the Revolution runs September 7–October 6, 2013 at Theater J in the Washington DCJCC’s Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater. Press night is Wednesday, September 11 at 7:30 pm. Performances on Saturday, September 7 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, September 8 at 7:30 pm are $30 previews. Performances on Monday, September 9 and Tuesday, September 10 at 7:30 pm are pay-what-you-can previews. On Thursday, October 3 at 7:30 pm the show will have open-captioning for the hearing impaired. There will be a special noon matinee on Friday, October 4. Tickets are available starting at $25 at theaterj.org or (800) 494-8497.