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After the Blast

Theatre Review by Jose Solís - October 23, 2017

Will Connolly, Cristin Milioti, and William Jackson Harper
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

In the future, we still won't know how to deal with depression, or so believes playwright Zoe Kazan, who creates one of the most insightful portraits of the disorder in After the Blast which opened October 23, at the Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center. Kazan's heroine, Anna (Cristin Milioti), lives in a future where the human race has been forced to move underground, after a series of nuclear and environmental cataclysms rendered the surface uninhabitable. She shares her home with her husband Oliver (William Jackson Harper) who works in a governmental department in charge of restoring the surface. Anna is suffering from a severe depression that has deemed her unable to get a permit for procreation. In this society, married couples are given only a few chances to have children, and Anna and Oliver have only one strike left.

Anna has stopped working, she used to be a journalist but became tired of writing puff pieces that might've become even more unbearable in the sunless world she inhabits. Anna dreams of going back to the surface and hopes laying on the grass and seeing the sky will prove to be a miracle cure. Worried by her condition, Oliver brings home a robot companion who looks like the love child of WALL-E and a golden retriever, he tells Anna that she's in charge of training the robot and teaching him things like vocabulary, cultural references and how to deal with emotions, i.e. things one would teach a child. Even though she's reluctant at first, Anna soon becomes attached to the adorable robot she names Arthur. But as things begin to look brighter, a dark secret looms over Arthur's real purpose in their home.

In After the Blast Kazan has managed to write the rare play that is enhanced by its genre elements. Rather than serving as mere adornments, the sci-fi elements suggest a level of introspection rarely seen in modern plays. Instead of allowing the wonders (and horrors) of this new world to take over the plot, Kazan uses them to highlight the characters' humanity. Daniel Zimmerman's streamlined sets and furniture, speak of a world where people have become so consumed by fear of their survival, that everything must be compressed and stored. We see dining rooms hidden under tables, baby cribs inside closets, and bedrooms that only serve the purpose of being spaces to rest.

Purpose is an essential part of the questions Kazan poses, as she not only wonders whether the nature of gender roles will evolve, but also makes us wonder about primal notions like the ethical conundrums of bringing children to a world constantly threatened by destruction, or even whether humans should be reproducing to begin with. Anchored by Milioti's absolutely luminous performance, After the Blast is a profound meditation on the nature of the soul, our relationship to objects, and our fear of connecting to those who are closer to us. Kazan could've easily delivered at least three plays from the material she has here; there's a story about a marriage in crisis, a Pinocchio-like fable, and a powerful character study. That she was able to turn them all into a cohesive, enlightening piece, should provide some hope for the future. If nuclear war leads us to move underground, plays like After the Blast should remain as reminders of why we need to keep on living.

After the Blast
Through November 19
Lincoln Center Theater - Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge