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After the Fall
Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill
Review by Stephanie Hainsfurther

20170905-Photo Sep 05, 10 06 55 PM-Edit.JPG

Sheridan K. Johnson and Peter Shea Kierst
Photo by VJ Liberatori

Guilt and anger are powerful emotions, masking others like fear and despair. Those feelings are raw and on display in Arthur Miller's After the Fall as the Aux Dog's 10th anniversary season opening play. Candidly portrayed by prominent local actors, the issues of Miller's personal life are served up to an audience riveted by past headlines and present relevance.

Quentin (Peter Shea Kierst) is Miller's stand-in, let's not pretend here, locked in his own mind with his parents and his past, if the stage design by Petifogger is any indication. Gray and metallic with chamber doors that could be described as prison like or even submarine, the hard surfaces just won't give. Neither will Quentin's memories. That he wrestles with them dispels any sense of claustrophobia we the witnesses might have, and that deliverance is down to the actor.

Kierst's straightforward delivery conveys honesty and angst while seeking the truth of his own actions, imperfect as Quentin's conceits may be. His directness also lets us hear Miller's beautiful language and the twist and turn of the playwright's thoughts. Kierst doesn't depend on his sheer likability but allows us to experience the nastiness, duplicity, petulance, grief, pain—all that makes us human and not too happy about it. Guided by American theater maven and director Jim Cady, Kierst becomes our everyman, exercising free will within the confines of his modern world.

He is ably backed by a striking cast that help mark the events in Quentin/Miller's life. Matthew Van Wettering as Mickey and Gerry Sullivan as Lou bring to life the congressional witch hunts of the 1950s. Sullivan's anguished, Cheever-esque portrait of a white man who never questioned his freedom to dissent stands against Van Wettering's staunch defense of Mickey's right to save himself by "naming names." Quentin agrees to be Lou's lawyer but ends up merely supervising Lou's legal counsel. Is this a betrayal of friendship? Of morality itself? Either way, we are fascinated by Quentin's willingness to explore what it means to stand up when compromising his principles might be the better course.

The theme of betrayal runs through Quentin's memories of family, too. His guilt about abandoning the family business and going off on his own affects his relationship not only with his parents but with his brother Dan (a sympathetic Stephen Zamora), who nobly stays behind to run it. Georgia Athearn and Phillip J. Shortell are dead-on as the once-affluent, overbearing parents.

Michelle Volpe Roe does a nice "Mad Men"-quality turn as anxiety-ridden Louise, Quentin's first wife, who feels neglected and invisible. She is desperately unhappy, yoked to a husband who has tied them both to the marital constraints of the 1950s. Fabiana Borghese is believable as Elsie, Lou's leftist wife, who wants what she wants. Sara Werner does a light-hearted turn as Felice, a young woman who augurs Quentin's adulterous flings.

Another player who deserves mention is Ronda Lewis as Holga, the stand-in character for the photographer Inge Morath, Miller's third wife to whom he was married for nearly 40 years. She appears and reappears throughout the play and each time is like a promise of future happiness. Her scenes with Kierst are heartfelt and Lewis plays them with intelligence and a warm but tentative commitment.

The second act of course belongs to Maggie (Sheridan K. Johnson), Miller's scorching version of Marilyn Monroe for which he was reviled by critics and friends alike. At first Johnson plays Maggie as Marilyn might have been—transparently needy, dangerously naive. When Quentin warns her that she must protect herself, she acts desperate to please him, proving his point. Johnson lets us see the boundless depths of Maggie's longing for love before Quentin does. It's terrifying. Going from an exuberant young woman to a manipulative addict, the actor turned up the heat by notches until I could barely breathe. She might be playing a force of nature, but Johnson's performance itself is far too controlled to fall into that cliche. I'm still on the edge of that cliff she put me on.

Through October 1, 2017, Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill, 3011-3015 Monte Vista Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, Friday-Saturday 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m., (505) 254-7716, auxdogtheatre.org