To compare In the Wake and After the Revolution is almost too easy. Both were written by female playwrights and have three word titles, both are about the way the political impacts the personal, both have a choppy scene structure rather than a point-A-to-B narrative, both have very enjoyable moments and both sort of hit you over the head with a message. (What is the play about? Don't know towards the end? Don't worry -- the playwright will tell you.) But there is a deeper comparison that can be made. Both these plays focus on making some kind of profound statement instead of concentrating on character development.
At one point of In the Wake the lead character goes from seemingly having no job to speaking at Harvard. It's never clear how that happened. The lights faded on one scene, and when they came back up she is at an Ivy. I thought an explanation would be forthcoming, but it never was. I guess we were supposed to assume that she wrote a book that was amazingly successful. Later on, it seems like she has been successful for years. I don't know how that happened. I wish I did because when this type of basic detail is missing, I am taken out of what is going on onstage. It is hard to be emotionally invested in characters when you don't understand where they are in life.
After the Revolution does a better job on that front -- there are no huge gaps. Some of it is a little perplexing, but, it's essentially all there. And it's generally good. What is missing is the added element that makes you care about the people you're watching. You have this main character who comes off naive and whiny (much like the lead character in In the Wake, but sadly without In the Wake's noteworthy lead performance by Marin Ireland). The supporting characters are more appealing and sympathetic, but none of them are drawn completely enough to make you really feel for them. There are three characters -- portrayed by Marc Blum, Mare Winningham (who I wish would do 100 more plays) and Meredith Holzman -- that are sort of stock in the middle for much of the play; those are the characters I felt for most. That is problematic, for one wishes to be fully invested in the central characters.
Perhaps it is that these plays were intended to aim more at the head than at the heart. But I don't think so. In In the Wake, the lead character takes to the lip of the stage (breaking the fourth wall as is common in Lisa Kron plays) and sort of esoterically rambles. I believe this strategy is employed to get you more invested in the character, but if anything it made me zone out. Now, I write this as a Lisa Kron fan, a supporter of Well and 2.5 Minute Ride. I write this as someone who found aspects of In the Wake enjoyable. But I also write this as someone who sat there confused at many points of the show. The more you care about the people in the show, the less confused you are going to be because you will be willing to forgive little lapses in the name of moving forward with these people. I wasn't in a forgiving mood 2 1/2 hours into In the Wake. I stopped being interested in how the characters' political views were shaping their everyday life. After the Revolution, for all its strengths, likewise didn't totally hold my attention. I was lost somewhere in the cerebral hemispheres for a time towards the end and, when I returned to the action, the play was over.
This all leaves me wondering if these two plays are just flukes or evidence of a movement towards political statement plays. (Though I know I am going to get emails saying neither of them are political statement plays.) At the basic level, I believe both these dramas are about the need to compromise and modify one's ideology in light of the people in your life and the times you live in. That is a worthy message. It's just the method of communicating it that leaves me slightly cold.
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