Vera, the old Greenwich Village lefty with bad hearing and some trouble remembering words, was the main attraction of "4000 Miles," Amy Herzog's critically acclaimed drama about progressive politics and the generation gap.
The character makes a more modest appearance in Herzog's earlier play "After the Revolution," a less mature work but one that gives no doubt about the authenticity of her playwriting talent. Now at the Chance Theater in a pellucid production directed by Oanh Nguyen, this family drama tells a similar story of a twentysomething character who's forced to sort out her political ideals in the shadow of her late Marxist grandfather, whose memory his widow, Vera (Katherine McKalip), tries to keep alive in a radically different era.
Emma (Marina Michelson), a young activist, has started a social justice foundation named in honor of her dead grandfather, who was blacklisted. After she discovers that he wasn't simply an "ideological communist" but a Soviet spy, she is forced to reassess the black-and-white worldview that her Red Diaper dad, Ben (a solid Robert Foran), has fostered in her.
Storytelling clarity is the great asset of this ensemble. The actors aren't always believable as a family, and the precise milieu is a little too generalized. (The set by Bradley Kaye doesn't bother to evoke the Boston and New York locales.) But the dramatic path is sure-footedly traversed by all (a credit to Nguyen's direction).
Michelson's Emma holds the center of the production with grace and grit. McKalip has formidable predecessors in the role (including Lois Smith), but she acquits herself respectably. The standouts in the supporting cast — Andrew Puente as Emma's boyfriend Miguel and Karen Webster as Mel, Ben's partner — bring grainy individuality to their roles.
Foran's Ben has a key part in one of the play's most charmingly idiosyncratic scenes. Brought together to reconcile after a mutually agonizing estrangement, father and daughter pull out pieces of paper on which they've written all that has been pent up inside them. It's a consummately Herzog-ian moment, intricately braiding complicated political history with messy personal feeling.
'After the Revolution'
Where: Chance Theater @ Betty Aiken Theater Arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim
When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. this Saturday, 3 p.m. May 9. Ends May 10.
Tickets: $30 and $35
Contact: (714) 777-3033 or www.ChanceTheater.com
Running time: 2 hours