AFTER ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS I DO— with whom does that not resonate? Who among us hasn’t searched for forgiveness, or at least understanding after all or even one terrible thing we’ve done? The new play by A. Rey Pamatmat and directed by Peter DuBois grips us there in that uneasy place at a sleek 95 minutes and puts two characters on a collision course with the truth, literally and figuratively, as they meet in a midwestern “everytown” bookstore and the crossroads of some timely societal issues. The multilevel design of the store (a beauty by Clint Ramos) is a cue to the maze of intersections in the relationship between these characters, their unexpectedly overlapping histories, and the fallout from pivotal events in their lives.
Here’s the set up — Daniel (Zachary Booth) a handsome college grad in a dark suit has returned home to regroup and find a job while working on his first novel about his obsession: poet Frank O’Hara and O’Hara’s romance with his male roommate. Daniel is about to be interviewed by Linda (Tina Chilip) the outspoken Filipina owner of the bookstore he frequented as a child. The two have an edgy rapport; she takes a maternal shine to him, and he begins to feel uncomfortable. That first encounter turns out to be a blueprint for the trajectory of their relationship over the course of the play. She feels him out, he’s on his best behavior, he relaxes and reveals himself, so does she, they have an explosive argument,they make up, he’s hired, and they plot out a working relationship.
I hesitate to say much more specifically– the play hinges on its surprises and sometimes too neatly coincidental events. He’s writing a play that draws on some of his lived experience. Turns out, his past and hers are interconnected. The play actually telegraphs more than it should about this– I was unfortunately not surprised by the climactic revelation and sensed that most of the audience wasn’t either.
Still, the play percolates with sharp dialogue, quick shifts in dynamics– dramatic to comic (I will never forget the name Dick “Felcher.”) and potent insight about transgression and forgiveness; what self-hatred does to anyone marginalized by society; how it yokes together violence and eroticism (It did not escape me that the worst thing Daniel as a gay man could call a flamboyantly effeminate gay schoolmate whom he loathed, was A GIRL.); how parents unwittingly bully their children; how writers syphon off the lives of others in an attempt to understand themselves; how we deceive ourselves; and ultimately how the power of narrative and the creative process redeem our complex experiences as flawed human beings.
These performances are first rate. Zachary Booth is by turns sweet, smart, and cruel. We watch him morph moment to moment, from naive student, to assured cerebral writer, to wounded son, to hunky man on the make; our perceptions shift from who we think he is, to who he really is, and who he wants to be. The performance is fluid, transparent, and charismatic.
Tina Chilip navigates her role as mother, entrepreneur, divorcee, and immigrant daughter with aplomb even as her part becomes overly burdened with thematic explanations in the last third, as if the playwright wanted to be sure we GOT IT–and she’s going to give it to us. Nevertheless she too, is charismatic and compelling.
AFTER ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS I DO— it’s a good thing to see this. At the BCA’s Calderwood Pavilion through June 21!