Last weekend Elli and I went to see After the Revolution in New York City. Many people think this play, which has gotten rave reviews, is based in part on my parents’ circumstances, but it isn’t. Instead, it is a slightly fictionalized account of another family, the Josephs, whose experience has some parallels to that of my parents.
In 1999 the play’s chief protagonist, Emma, has just graduated law school, and has established a foundation to pay for the legal defense of Mumia abu-Jamal and other political prisoners. The foundation is named The Joe Joseph Fund in honor of her deceased grandfather. Emma reveres her grandfather, whom she was told was hounded out of a government job as an economic analyst for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the McCarthy period for being a communist spy. Emma was told Joe was a communist, but not a spy.
Emma’s father, Ben, has known for years that his father, Joe, provided secret information to the Soviet Union, but has not shared this with Emma. As the play begins, Ben finds out that a book is about to be published, based upon material in the VENONA transcriptions, that reveals the Joseph family’s secret. When Ben tells Emma, the entire family must grapple with the resulting upheavals.
After the Revolution is a psychologically sophisticated and provocatively political, well-acted drama. I urge everyone within what I consider driving distance of New York City (I live 150 miles away) to see this play.
Of course, as my parents’ child, the founder and director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, and the father of an attorney fighting for the rights of political prisoners in this country, I may be so personally embroiled in the issues this play addresses that it affected me more powerfully than it would others. However, I now know at least a dozen other people who have seen the play and they’ve all been very positive about it.
Those of us who grew up as “red diaper babies” were taught that the right-wing lies and the left tells the truth. More specifically, the line was that during the McCarthy period reactionaries, conservatives, middle of the roaders and most liberals falsely accused and persecuted communists of being spies for the Soviet Union. We were taught as children that those accused were guilty of nothing more than holding opinions that were opposed to those who were in power.
But while many of the charges against left-wingers were false, reality was more complicated than we were led to believe. The right-wing had not cornered the market on dishonesty. The scenario of discovery and betrayal depicted in After the Revolution played out repeatedly in progressive families across the country as a new generation learned to deal with shades of gray.
One of After the Revolution’s great strengths is that the playwright, Amy Herzog, has given voice to my parents’, my own and my children’s perspectives on loyalty, secrecy and honesty. This play will have great value for those who deal with and accept political nuance while still working for economic and social justice.
After the Revolution is playing at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W. 42nd St. in NYC. You can order tickets online at www.playwrightshorizons.org or by calling 212-279-4200 (noon -8pm daily).
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