After: Parenting and the Apocalypse
By Craig Jordan Baker
One short play, performed twice, with two separate casts and directors, working independently.
One version’s directed by Dodger Phillips and performed by mother and daughter actors Syrita Kumar and Echo Phillips, the other’s directed by Rikki Tarascas and performed by father and son actors Tom and Dan Dussek. And two productions; one at the pocket handkerchief sized Rialto and the one we saw at the generous Spiegeltent space; of a two-hander set at the interface of Before and After. Already an intriguing concept, a packed house wanted to see what they’d do with it.
Something terrible’s happened – and this is After. A Parent and Child, fragmented humanity, are scratching for survival in the wreck of Before. There’s a huge gulf between the Parent who remembers and the Child who doesn’t. After the Parent tries to describe a memory as being just like a film, the Child simply asks ‘what’s a film?’
The Child is questioning the parent’s authority, radiating defiance and breaking away. The Parent must accept they can’t protect the Child forever and this is inevitable.
Along the way, we learn the terrible truth of the Parent’s past, their part in it, trying to atone by pouring all their energy into protecting the Child.
In the swift, straightforward and economical Phillips production, the focus is firmly pulled onto two powerful performances, in a Mother and Daughter coming of age drama.
We get the feeling that these two Amazons, tiger mama huntress, and the teen in her Rambo headband, physically capable and radiating scorn, will make it.
Tarascas’ production slowly introduces Father and Son, a more delicate, fragile pairing, with a film sequence reminiscent of the old Monty Python beach intro, and an apparent nod to The Bed Sitting Room as the play develops.
Still wearing his shirt and tie and pulling a prissy shopping trolley, Tom Dussek’s crash helmet needs to be properly hung up – that human skull’s just the thing. See? Father’s keeping things nice. We already know his secret, having heard the story before, and we know where his bumbling, kindly, clumsy gentleness will lead, but he’s heartbreaking.
As the Son Dan Dussek shows extraordinary presence and pathos, a damaged scrap in a bloodstained bunny onesie, capable of dreadful rage.
This take’s full of visual storytelling touches that sketch in their world. Our tech is now their useless debris; a stash of phones with chargers become a plaything, a mobile carefully preserved in a treasure tin is used as a mirror.
There are technical issues; the Spiegeltent offers a terrific space, a bare wooden stage with gauze backdrop on which apocalyptic scenes are projected, but the audience has to work hard to ignore the teeth-clenching racket from outside.
The lighting’s very low throughout, serving the needs of the projection screen – an awkward decision, as we couldn’t see the band and so often we also couldn’t see the actors’ faces. I’d have appreciated a programme with performer and crew credits and information.
In the end the second version is a rather over-egged pudding. It feels overly drawn out, three songs and some puppeteering sequences diluting the impact of the more delicate Father and Son relationship. There are some odd choices – the wobbly armadillos and glowing red eyed rabbit heads sparked hastily muffled laughter. But the rabbit puppets slowly hopping across the stage, little sparks of life in a ruined landscape, had the audience mesmerised.