At first, After, a play by Michael McKeever, is reminiscent of God of Carnage, the Yasmina Reza play about two sets of parents meeting to sort out a conflict involving their sons. Carnage, however, plays out in one act in real time, and the mostly comic play deals with how the parents are reduced to behavior not much more mature than that of their kids. After is built in three scenes, labeled “Before,” “During” and “After,” and the event to which those labels refer is a tragic act, an act of violence.
Under the direction of Joe Brancato and with an expert cast of five (in addition to the parents, the sister of one character is there in an attempt to act as mediator), the production is a precise piece of work. But it is a frustrating play because the script should have been better. I admire McKeever’s play, Daniel’s Husband (also directed by Brancato). It has a specificity of language that is lacking at key moments in After.
Let me speak to the larger issue. The job of a playwright isn’t to be real. It isn’t to write what characters would actually say in a given situation. Most people in normal conversation commonly resort to stock phrases and reasoning you can see unfolding from a mile off. After is filled with this kind of real conversation. It all sounds plausible, but too much of it is built on familiar tropes. Dialogue shouldn’t sound real, it should sound realistic. It should sound persuasively colloquial, but it should employ newly-minted language. The audience shouldn’t be able to anticipate the next line (as I found myself doing successfully again and again during After). It should be delighted by new insights, new imagery.
And it should not be subjected to characters explaining their feelings. My opinion: the audience is meant to figure out from the behavior of the characters what they are feeling. When you have characters label their emotions, you make the audience passive. If the scene is correctly written, no character ever needs to say, “I feel you have betrayed me” or the like.
After is a pretty good play that I wish it had gone through another draft to be the play I think it could be.