In the 'Aftermath': Drama Reflects on Sept. 11

Amidst the rhetoric of retribution emerging from the post-Sept.11 dialogue, some voices have focused themselves on remembering the victims, mourning the loss of innocence and healing a broken nation.

In one of the most intelligent and profound reactions thus far, actors from the American Repertory Theatre, the ART Institute and the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club allowed cooler heads to prevail in a performance of Aftermath, an amalgam of poetry, skits, scenes and songs designed to honor the victims and to provide a chance for reflection.

Simple in design—minimalistic lighting on a bare stage where the performers sat in a row along the back and came forward to the podium to perform—the show let each work stand for itself. Twenty segments of about five minutes each flowed seamlessly into the next, although the works varied in terms of presentation and theme (the proceedings drew both on John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Aeschylus’ Eumenides).


Humor can oft be a palliative for grief, and the show brought plenty of laughter. “The Pat and Jerry Show,” with Richard Snee and Will LeBow, satirized an infamous conversation between television evangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who blamed the terrorist attacks on the American Civil Liberties Union and the pro-gay and pro-choice movements. Although questionably tasteful at best, the skit and song elicited laughter from the audience. In some ways, taking it to such extremes helped to deal calmly with the irrational prejudices that have emerged since the attack; outrage was transformed into sheer amusement.

In another successful segment, actors from the ART Institute performed, in an avant garde production, excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, adapted and directed by Mercedes Murphy. Dealing (in part) with the barren aftermath of the tragedy of World War I, the poem took on new meaning in dealing with the tragedy, as New York City became the “Unreal City” of the poem. With harrowing background music by Samrat Chakrabarti, the difficult piece emerged as a relevant theatrical moment.

Also made more accessible on this evening was Fyodor Dostoevsky, who has never been known for uncomplicated literary works. Cary P. McClelland ’02 brought a new and surprisingly realistic voice to the narrator of Notes from Underground, performing a passage dealing with madness, conformity, violence and the causes of destructiveness. Achieving the golden mean between humorous and sober, McClelland used his brilliant instinct for timing, subtle facial expressions and the wit of Dostoevsky to bring his character to life in a very different context from that of the book.

A Carl Sandburg poem, “Skyscrapers,” made a fitting eulogy for the World Trade Center itself. Ken Cheeseman’s reading began with the line: “By the day, the skyscraper looms in the smoke and sun and has a soul.” A celebration of those who worked within the towars and of the proud buildings themselves, the piece was appropriately sobering and provocative.

“Blues for New York City,” by Will LeBow, which was described as, “with thanks and apologies to B.B. King,” traveled the path of sadness and recovery. Sorrowful yet magestic, the piece celebrated the memory of the city before the event and suggested a future equally bright.

Ultimately, Aftermath was less about providing a single answer or theme, and more about provoking emotional and intellectual thought—the questions, not the answers, took precedence. Aftermath skillfully avoided the unwieldy sappiness of a sentimental recollection and the insufferable bluntness of an overbearing instructional. The show was successful in giving each audience member much to take out of the performance and its imminently relevant themes, which were housed in pieces powerful enough to stand alone as well-crafted works of art, but rich enough to have a deep connection to the tragic events of Sept. 11.

Out of the diverse works of artistic greats including Chopin, Auden, Euripedes, Dostoevsky, Sandburg, Kushner, Ferlinghetti and Shakespeare, the performers of Aftermath crafted an expressive evening of reflection and healing.