Members of Tufts’ oldest student organization, theater group Pen, Paint and Pretzels (3Ps), have created a collaborative decision-making space for student directors to share and discuss production ideas. The group convened late last fall to hear proposals for major productions for the upcoming semester before ideas were voted on by the membership. One of the proposals came from junior Blair Nodelman, a first-time director for 3Ps.
Although she had previously assistant-directed the productions of Torn Ticket II’s “Into the Woods” and the department show “Daybreak,” Nodelman had never directed on her own and wanted to choose a show that would be true to her personal interests, and those of 3Ps and the Tufts community.
After exploring her options, Nodelman decided to propose “After the Revolution,” a 2010 play by Amy Herzog that focuses on a family of Marxist political activists in 1999 and their individual struggles with ideology, identity and truth. The character of Emma Joseph, the beating heart of the play, is a recent law school graduate who must come to terms with her relationships and the future of her activism, upon discovering that her late Communist grandfather, whom she revered, may have been a Soviet spy — a fact that was hidden from her by her father for her whole life. She must then make decisions about her grandfather’s namesake fund in support of Mumia Abu-Jumal, a black nationalist convicted of killing a police officer, and analyze what it really means to be innocent.
“I really loved that it was a play about a complicated family, but it didn’t dress it up too much,” Nodelman said. “I loved that it was about politics…I thought it was a really apt play for the election coming up, and that it spoke to a lot of issues, especially on the Tufts campus; how we vocalize [our] ideologies and our beliefs and morals.”
Nodelman explained that she was attracted to the play’s depiction of complex and “mostly healthy” relationships that reminded her of those in her own family. What she didn’t understand at the time of her proposal, however, was the historical reality of many of those relationships, and the profoundly close ties that exists between “After the Revolution” and the Tufts community.
Paul Joseph, professor of sociology and former director of the Department of Peace and Justice Studies at Tufts, was actually one of the sources of inspiration for the playwright Amy Herzog, who is his niece, in her original crafting of the show.
“I actually didn’t know that it was about Paul Joseph until after I chose the play,” Nodelman said. “It actually had nothing to do with that [at the beginning], and all to do with that in the end.”
The play’s character, Uncle Leo, is based directly on Joseph, just as many of the characters and their stories in “After the Revolution” are drawn from the real Joseph family.
“[Amy] came up to Boston for a long weekend and interviewed me, and interviewed my brother, and there’s some parts of the play that literally happened from what I told her,” Joseph explained. “The scene with the kite sticks, where I [painted] my father as the owner of a lumberyard [despite being] in financial difficulty, and he stood by me…that actually happened.”
Joseph proved to be an essential resource for the cast and crew of the 3Ps’ production after it was accepted, prior to its three-night run from March 10 to 12. He advised the actors on their character work and served as a “second dramaturg” to the production’s dramaturg Rachel Sheldon, according to Nodelman. Joseph also put Nodelman in touch with Amy Herzog and did a talkback after Friday evening’s show along with his brother Andrew and Andrew’s wife Pam, who are the inspirations for Ben and Mel in the play.
“He came into rehearsal and talked to the cast,” she said. “A lot of the photos in the back [of the stage production] were his family photos.”
“I gave [Blair] too many family pictures,” Joseph said.
Joseph described an “emotional accuracy” in many of the characters and their relationships, with many aspects of the play true to the life of the Joseph family.
“In the [talkback] after the Friday performance, the first question was regarding the emotional accuracy of the play,” he said. “I think it is fairly accurate…emotionally accurate. [The characters of] myself, my brother, my stepmother, my father, those [personalities] are tracking pretty closely [to reality].”
In his character work with some of the actors, Joseph explored the closeness of the relationships and personalities in the play to the actual people they are based on.
“Two of the characters in the play are my brother and myself, and the two [actors] who were playing the brothers [sophomore Ben Fuligni and junior Paxton Crystal]…asked me to review what our fraternal relationship was, to see if they could mirror that at all,” he said. “My stepmother is a figure in the play as well, and she was a special person [and] a unique personality. The student playing Vera [first-year Chopper Carter-Schelp] was very curious to know the combination of being very strong, caustic and critical yet also funny, unique, committed and loving, and how all those things got put together.”
Joseph said that some aspects of the play are fictional, artistic constructions on the part of Herzog.
“[In real life] there is no ‘Emma’ per se,” he said. “Emma [played by first-year Amanda Rose] is a composite of the next generation — Amy and some of her cousins. The idea of the Joe Joseph Fund is also her construction. My father died and left part of his inheritance to political causes, but there was no fund, per se.”
Another invention in the script was the character of Miguel, Emma’s boyfriend-turned-employee who chooses to work for her at the Joe Joseph Fund rather than to explore a better-paying job out of law school. As a Latino man, Miguel is the only specified character of color in the play’s small ensemble. According to Nodelman, the experiences of Miguel’s character highlight the racial disparity of privilege and opportunity in the United States, as part of the play’s exploration of racism.
Nodelman, with the guidance of drama professor Noe Montez, reached out to the Tufts’ Latino Center for assistance in casting the role of Miguel.
“[Montez] teaches Latino theater class and he directed [Tufts’ production of] ‘Welcome to Arroyo’s’ (2013), which comprised of Latino students, for the most part, and is about a Latino community,” Nodelman said. “[He gave me] a lot of advice about what I should do and how I should reach out to [the Latino Center].”
The Department of Drama and Dance has received criticism for their approach to diversity in the past, specifically in their spring 2014 production of “RENT.” According to a January 31, 2014 Daily article, the cast of the department’s production did not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity present in most other student or professional productions of “RENT.”
The department indirectly responded to criticism at the time in a statement on their website, which read: “We hope that our production of ‘RENT,’ re-considered twenty years after its original presentation, will invite audiences to turn their attention to the millions of definitions and possibilities inherent in the word ‘diversity.'”
Nodelman said that 3Ps approach to casting for “After the Revolution” was important to staying true to the play.
“[The character Miguel being Latino] was integral to the structure of the play…[Otherwise] it could just be a bunch of upper-class white people sitting around, bitching about politics,” she said.
Sophomore Miguel Rodriguez Santos, a first-time actor who played Miguel in the 3Ps production, said he found out about the role through the Latino Center and chose to audition.
“It was just something I had always wanted to try,” Santos explained. “I read up on the play and I thought it was really interesting: the family dynamics and the racial tension between Emma, her family and me.”
Santos said that the themes of racial and ethnic discrimination in the play were central to his motivations for pursuing the role.
“I think [that was important], bringing that to an audience for them to analyze and say, ‘This is happening. This is still happening,'” he said. “It may be almost 20 years after ’99, but it’s still relevant. That was one of the main reasons I decided to do it.”
Nodelman says she is thankful for the collaboration with the Latino Center and hopes it will increase connection between the theater community and resource centers of the Group of Six in the future.
“It was a really wonderful experience and I’m really glad that the connection was made with the Center,” she said.
Nodelman added that she had a lot of help from the show’s producer junior Rachel Canowitz and the director of programming for 3Ps, senior Evey Reidy, as well as Rubén Stern, [director of] the Latino Center.
“Meeting with [Stern] and using him to communicate what the play was about to the other communities was actually interesting, because he could not remember a time where the theater community actually personally reached out to him, which I found really surprising,” she said.
Nodelman added that the outreach and auditioning process is something 3Ps is particularly conscious of.
Santos, Nodelman and Joseph all referenced the connections they see between “After the Revolution” and activism on the Tufts campus, and the play’s relevance to both the immediate and more widespread community.
“Given that we are a very politically active, movement-driven campus, I think [the play] is very relevant,” Santos said.
He referenced the #thethreepercent movement that rose to prominence on campus last semester. It addresses and protests anti-black racism within the university and on other college campuses across the nation. Santos said that student activism and Tufts’ diversity problems are related to the themes of “After the Revolution.”
“Especially because Tufts is such a white campus…and the student body of color here is so small, we basically cling to each other,” he said. “I think bringing that to the stage…was really important.”
Nodelman said the play also has a relevancy to the current political climate of the country.
“I think especially now with the sort of…political tremor of the United States, I think it’s especially appropriate,” she said. “We’re disconnected from the ‘blacklist’ and the Red Scare, but there’s very similar things happening in our society now, with Islamaphobia and other sentiments of paranoia.”
Joseph said he was happy that a lot of his colleagues went to the show Friday night, given its relevance for faculty and students on campus. As the faculty leader for the fossil fuel divestment movement at Tufts, Joseph sees some continuity in that work with the work of his father and other activists represented in “After the Revolution.”
“I wish there was more appreciation for how you can work together despite differences, but it’s not easy, and this inner turmoil as well as the external…[is] not just in the United States and at Tufts, but so many countries and places,” he said. “I wish we could do better, but I think that’s part of the territory. We could always do better.”