Theatre Period is a new company founded by long time bay area actor Paul Sevillano Jennings, director Lennon Becky Smith, and production manager George Mauro. These three bring impressive credits to the new company, and if their debut production of the documentary play Aftermath by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen is a good indication of what is to come, they should be around for a long while making significant contributions to the scene.
Documentary plays based on transcriptions of real life interviews are a popular staple of San Francisco theatre. During the past season, we have seen two excellent examples in New Conservatory Theatre’s west coast premiere production of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later and Cutting Ball’s original and moving Tenderloin. Theatre Period’s production of Aftermath is the cream of the crop. This is certainly one of the finest and most moving productions of this year’s Bay Area season.
Playwrights (and spouses) Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen established a national reputation with their first documentary piece The Exonerated, based on interviews with six convicts who had spent years on death row only to be eventually exonerated and released. Later, it was made into a distinguished made-for-cable film featuring an extraordinary cast that included Brian Dennehy, Danny Glover, Aidan Quinn and Susan Sarandon.
In 2005, Blank and Jensen traveled to Jordan and interviewed a number of Iraqi expatriates who had fled the violence. The play is adapted from these real life stories.
It is presented with the simplest possible staging. There is a group of chairs. There is a wall on which is projected, briefly, a view of the city of Baghdad. A woman begins speaking to the audience in Arabic. After a few moments of confusion, a translator arrives and introduces himself. We quickly understand the conceit of the play: the audience represents a reporter from an American magazine, interviewing a group of Iraqis for an article about their wartime experiences.
Over the next 80 minutes (without intermission) numerous individuals tell their stories. There is the successful dermatologist who found himself, eventually, faced with the task of amputating arms and legs. There is the man who saw his young cousin tortured and murdered by American soldiers. There is an Imam who is arrested and imprisoned as a terrorist at Abu Graib because the security guards at his Mosque protected it with rifles (which had been allowed for by the American authorities).
The stories are told with a disarming simplicity and directness that gives them all the ring of truth. The cast, all of them Iraqi, are uniformly excellent. They hardly seem to be acting. They speak with a direct simplicity that cannot fail to move.
The play is a success as literature, as theatre, as art and as politics. People should see this.
Theatre Period has made an important contribution to our community with this production. I urge you to support them. Aftermath continues through June 30th at Stage Werx Theatre. For further information, click here.
“Aftermath” by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, produced by Theatre Period. Director: Lennon Smith. Lighting Designer: Carson Duper. Production Designer: Kendra Pecan. Sound/Video Designer: George Mauro.
Rafidain: Yara Badday. Shahid: Mohamed Chakmakchi. Fouad: Dolfakar Mardan. Naimah: Susu Attar. Basima: Janan Ali. Yassar: Shoresh Alaudini. Fadilah: Andrea Ali. Asad: Hassan Alnawar. Abdul-Aliyy: Munaf Alsafi.
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