Miguel (left, Adrian Anchondo) tries to convince Emma (right, Jessica Bates) to speak to her father (Rolf Saxon) in Aurora Theatre Company’s production of ‘After the Revolution.’
Playwright Amy Herzog looks at what happens when an idolized ancestor turns out to have been human in “After the Revolution,” staged by Aurora Theatre Company to open its 22nd season in Berkeley.
This two-act play focuses on three generations of the Joseph family, who proudly call themselves Marxists. Their venerated ancestor is the late Joe Joseph, a Marxist who worked for the Office of Strategic Services, a World War II forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.
When he testified at a congressional hearing during the infamous communist witch hunts during the early 1950s, he denied passing U.S. secrets to Russia and refused to name possible communists, thus being blacklisted.
Now his 26-year-old granddaughter, Emma (Jessica Bates), a freshly minted law school graduate in 1999, has started the Joe Joseph Foundation dedicated to fighting injustice.
When she learns that what she had been told about her grandfather isn’t entirely true, she triggers a major family crisis aimed mostly at her father, Ben Joseph (Rolf Saxon), for having withheld the information from her.
His partner Mel (Pamela Gaye Walker), his brother Leo (Victor Talmadge), Emma’s sister Jess (Sarah Mitchell), their stepgrandmother Vera (Ellen Ratner) and Emma’s boyfriend Miguel (Adrian Anchondo) all get involved in the father-daughter rift.
The person who seems to be the most helpful is an outsider, 77-year-old Morty (Peter Kybart), a major donor to Emma’s foundation.
Director Joy Carlin keeps the action moving briskly and has a solid cast. Bates as Emma is onstage through most of the two-act play and carries the heaviest load in a role that temporarily devolves into depression that can seem self-indulgent.
Saxon is convincing as the caring father who has to admit he made mistakes. Talmadge as Leo and Walker as Mel come across as reasonable and caring as they try to serve as peacemakers.
Mitchell’s Jess is refreshingly blunt as a young woman trying to get through rehab. Ratner as Vera is feisty as she portrays an aging woman beset by difficulties hearing, walking and remembering words.
Kybart embodies Morty’s generosity, wisdom and sense of humor, while Anchondo is caring and then conflicted as Miguel.
Because the plot tends to be detailed, one must listen carefully. This is especially true in Aurora’s intimate space, where the audience sits on three sides of the stage. If an actor is turned away from one side, he or she might be difficult to hear.
The play makes extensive use of telephone calls, especially in the second act when Ben is trying to get through to Emma. J.B. Wilson’s set design plays up this device with telephone poles and wires upstage.
For the most part, “After the Revolution” is an involving drama with believable characters and circumstances.
It will continue at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, through Sept. 29. For tickets and information call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.