In Chad Beckim’s After, Monty (Alfredo Narciso), newly released from prison, remains in self-imposed solitary. Home in Sunnyside, Queens, with his sister Liz (Maria-Christina Oliveras), he limits himself to monosyllables and spends his nights pacing the dining room, shoulders hunched, muscles tensed. “I think he’s fine,” says Liz to the visiting prison chaplain Chap (Andrew Garman). “I’m mostly guessing, because he doesn’t talk a lot. Also he doesn’t really eat a lot? And he never sleeps.”
Monty’s transition to life on the outside is unusually fraught because, imprisoned for rape at just 17, he spent 17 years jailed before DNA evidence exonerated him. He finds himself thrust back into the world in a grown man’s body, but with few ideas and no experience of how to negotiate adult life. Navigating a squirmingly awkward first date, he’s forced to confess his status to Susie (Jackie Chung), a manic, ebullient pharmacy employee. “I’ve never tied a tie,” he explains. “I’ve never gone shopping for groceries. And I’ve never asked a girl out.” Even a task as basic as buying a toothbrush or choosing a stick of deodorant paralyzes him.
Partial Comfort Productions, which Beckim co-founded, has established a niche for itself via gritty, unglamorous, downbeat plays, typically featuring working-class protagonists, such as Sam Marks’s Nelson and Beckim’s ‘nami. After fits this model, providing a useful, fictional counterpart to documentary works like the Culture Project’s The Exonerated, helping us to live empathically the experience of someone wrongfully convicted. At its best, this piece poignantly shows how much Monty has missed and how the simplest aspects of contemporary urban life—ringtones, Netflix, clicking a mouse—can floor him. Once he eases in to the rhythms of the script, Narciso, a fine and forceful actor, conveys Monty’s confusion and alienation, anger and fear.
But not all the characters prove as well-crafted. Both Monty’s new boss Warren (Debrago Sanyal) and Susie seem little more than an assemblage of quirks. Because director Stephen Brackett only encourages these eccentricities, it testifies to the considerable charms of Chung and Sanyal that we can bear them at all. And toward the end of the piece, Beckim unwisely trades small, nicely observed scenes for an unearned and violent climax and an irresolute close. Beckim had originally planned to title his play A Good Ending. After—and Monty—deserve a better one.