nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 8, 2010
Afterclap is the third play that Daniel Reitz has written specifically for the blisteringly intimate space at the Seventh Street Small Stage, which is located in the backroom of an East Village saloon. The first, a contemporary adaptation of Three Sisters, placed the characters in the pub amongst the audience, who became essentially eavesdroppers on the articulate and angsty conversation of the women. The second, Rules of the Universe, took place entirely in the mens and ladies rooms, the doors to both removed so that we could see and hear things we would not otherwise be permitted to observe. Afterclap is more like Rules in its use of the space: it takes place at four a.m., and we are specters in the room who chance to witness the cataclysmic morning-after of the young man who is the play's only character.
When we discover him, he's lying in the rear of the room, curled up in fetal position, naked except for his socks. He awakens and the first moments of the play show his slow acclimation to surprising surroundings: he doesn't remember how he got here, or why he's not wearing clothes, or what he was doing when he fell asleep (correction: when he passed out) in the wee hours of the night before.
And then, once he's dressed and gotten his bearings, he does remember. Specifically, he finds a package near his own backpack—one of those padded manilla-ish envelopes that you can buy at Staples—and as he looks inside, the deep terrible sadness from which he had attempted escape just a few hours ago (via lots of drink and some superficial sex in this very room) comes hurtling back at him.
Reitz's play unfolds in real time; what we hear are this young man's thoughts, perhaps actually spoken aloud, perhaps not. From a vague stream of consciousness eventually the sorry truth of a wasted few months pours out. I don't want to reveal too much here about what actually happens; the plot points are not what's crucial here anyway, but rather the raw, aching, awful journey that Reitz causes us to take inside this man's conscience and (broken) spirit.
Director Daniel Talbott uses the ambient playing area skillfully, the searing intimacy of the room (we are never much more than a dozen feet away from the actor) adding weight to the proceedings. Haskell King plays this troubled young man, and he's called upon to do a lot of things that are meant to be uncomfortable for him and for us; Reitz and Talbott both intend a very heightened naturalism by having the actor be naked, physically and emotionally. (The onstage nudity only lasts a few moments.) This is a performance that will become richer, I think, as King settles into this very demanding role. I saw the very first public showing and I didn't feel that he had reached the cathartic place that the script calls for. Additionally, some key information didn't come through clearly: a few sentences of exposition at the beginning were garbled and confusing, as King delivered them as if still half-asleep; and I never saw the items contained in that important package clearly enough to actually be able to identify them.
Afterclap is a harrowing, untethering bit of theatre—another in the risky, dark oeuvre of Rising Phoenix Rep. For three quarters of an hour, we are witness to the deepest recesses of a conflicted soul, with all the emotional release and rescue that can provide.