Profiles Theatre’s ‘After’ a searing portrait of one man’s struggle
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticemail@example.com September 6, 2012 1:30PM
Stephenie Park (from left), Gabriel Ruiz and J. Salome Martinez star in Profiles Theatre's production of "After."
When: Through Oct. 14
Where: Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway
Info: (773) 549-1815; profilestheatre.org
Updated: October 9, 2012 2:08PM
How do you compensate a man for the loss of the best years of his life? How can a person who was unjustly accused of a crime while still a teenager — imprisoned for 17 years, and then fully exonerated and released back into the world — begin to pick up the pieces of a life that never really got started, and was so unjustly stolen?
And just where do you put the rage and the sense of disorientation that comes from such a fate? How do you rid yourself of the sense of having nothing, and being less than nothing? How do you move forward in any remotely positive way?
Those are the questions that drive “After,” Chad Beckim’s moving, thoughtful, strongly acted, 90-minute drama, now in its Midwest premiere at Profiles Theatre under the finely tuned direction of Matt Hawkins.
The wrongly accused and still young man at the play’s center is Monty. And he is played, most memorably, by J. Salome Martinez, a newcomer to Chicago who has worked in theater and television in Los Angeles. A solidly built fellow with a broad face that suggests both sadness and hurt, Martinez is so believable and compelling here that you wonder what else he might have up his sleeve.
“After” is set in the working-class neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens, where Monty has just returned “home” to live with his anxious sister, Liz (Alice Da Cunha, who flies with her climactic speech), whose own life was on hold while her brother was behind bars. Ill at ease with his new freedom — he was locked up at the age of 16 — Monty holes up in the dining room, only gradually re-entering the world.
On a shopping trip he encounters a salesgirl, Susie (Stephanie Park, a slip of a thing who is fascinating, funny and yes, “scary”), an irrationally exuberant and, as it turns out, damaged girl, who takes a shine to him. He manages to get a job at a dog kennel (he has a particular way with these “imprisoned” animals), where he is befriended by his young boss, Warren (a subtle, charming turn by Gabriel Ruiz), a fellow chess player who is trapped managing his dad’s business, but dreams of designing computer games (Monty has had no exposure to computers).
Monty also tries to cope with periodic visits from Chap (Foster Williams, Jr. is just right), the local priest who feels guilty about not supporting him earlier. And then there are those letters from his false accuser, and a visit from a thug named Eddie (Carlos Rogelio Diaz). Any further elements of the plot should not be divulged here.
Monty’s struggle to figure out what manhood is all about is challenged at every turn as he tries to balance rage and passivity, and to make sense of who he is, who he CAN be, and who he can trust. But the fact is, every character in Beckim’s play must fight for his or her own freedom.