TIO NYC: “Afterplay” at the Irish Rep, A Must

TIO NYC: “Afterplay” at the Irish Rep, A Must

Brian Friel’s “Afterplay,” is now up at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. The run is through November 6. Tickets here.


Two people, obviously strangers, try to connect over tea, later vodka, talking trivia and telling lies about their lives around a table in the dining room of a musty, but well-kempt 1920s tea room in an old hotel.

He and she are of a certain age. They have seen a lot. Lost a lot. Both are trying to make the most of the remains of the days of their lives, but are lonely, scared, desperate, he for sure finding solace in her company; she too. At first.

You are the fly on the wall, amused, but feeling their pain.

You are one of the lucky ones in the audience of a recent production of  “Afterplay,” now up at the Irish Repertory Theatre.

Anton Chekhov (1860 – 1904) was a literary artist of laconic precision, known to probe below the surface of life, lying bare the secret motives of his many beleagured characters. In his best plays, among them ‘Uncle Vanya” and “Three Sisters,” he concentrated on apparent trivialities to create a special kind of atmosphere, both haunting and lyrical.

The atmosphere of “Afterplay.”

Chekhov was a primary influence on playwright Brian Friel’s (“Dancing at Lughnasa,”etc.) work. And Friel’s audacious little play (it runs only 70 minutes) is a jazz-like improvisation on Chekhov’s bent to mine what Friel himself described as “the extraordinary within the ordinary.”

“Afterplay” was written as a Chekhovian epilogue and gently directed by Joe Dowling. The tiny production stars Dermot Crowley as Andrey and Dearbhla Molloy as Sonya, a perfectly matched pair, who somehow manage to turn inconsequential details like skin rashes, lukewarm soup, and fresh brown bread into an hilarious train wreck of inanities through which these two lonely people hope to enliven their bleak presents and keep inevitably bleak futures at bay.

Dearbhla Molloy and Dermot Crowley in Afterplay, directed by Joe Dowling, at the Irish Rep.

Dearbhla Molloy and Dermot Crowley in Afterplay, directed by Joe Dowling, at the Irish Rep.

“Afterplay” is a gem: short but oh so sweet, masterful, hilarious, poignant – and not to be missed for the acting alone.

When we meet them many years after the end of their dramatic lives in Chekhov’s pages (though 100 years later, their origins remain apparent) and find that Sonya has been burdened with the care of a large, loss-making estate once managed by Vanya, her beloved but bumbling uncle. Andrey is the brother of three sisters from the provinces who never quite made it to Moscow, though now there are only two sisters remaining. Vanya is dead too, of a broken heart or rather, a stroke, pining for the beautiful Yelena. Masha we also discover, killed herself having never recovered from the end of her affair with Vershinin.

Andrey considers the peculiarity of living one’s life “in a waiting room”; Sonya foresees the remainder of her days “in a tundra of loneliness.” Neither discusses the big changes in the outside world following a major war and the Bolshevik Revolution. They prefer chatting away aimlessly in their Chekhovian bubble, knowing somewhere in their hearts that society is in meltdown and their futures are, well, as we said, unwelcoming.

And we don’t care what they do, what they say, how much into their shells they retreat, as long as they (pretty please) keep engaging.

Oh, and no prior knowledge of Chekhov, of the characters’ backstories, required. (Though a little digging might enhance the joy of the moment.)


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