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  • Chris O'Rourke


Karen Ardiff and Barry Barnes in Afterplay. Image by Jeda de Bri.


The devil, they say, is in the details. In Brian Friel’s exquisitely crafted Afterplay from 2002, everything is in the details. Friel conjuring from the detritus of life and weaving poetry. Referencing Chekhov’s classics Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, exposition is so richly interwoven with plot, character and mood it offers more than context or description. Friel crafting a near perfect composition in which two souls, battered and beaten, lie their way towards the truth.

Afterplay. After two plays by Chekhov, not that you need to know them. Also the opposite of foreplay, happening after sex. The ease and tenderness when desire no longer dominates. In an empty cafe, strangers Sonya and Andrey meet by chance for the second time the day following their initial encounter. A stressed Sonya is getting ready to leave Moscow to return to her estate while violinist Andrey is preparing for a performance. As they talk over tea, soup and maybe a tipple of vodka, they begin disclosing their souls. Families and falling outs, lovers and loneliness, lost chances and second chances. Friel plumbing the depths of the human heart with refreshing clarity and tenderness, holding out the frail hope of connection.

Karen Ardiff and Barry Barnes in Afterplay. Image by Jeda de Bri.

Under David Horan’s direction, both Friel and Chekhov are made vividly present. Chekhov’s sense of loss delicately subverted by Friel’s act of hope for two of his characters. Karen Ardiff’s Sonya, opening night nerves aside, all fingers flexing in restless agitation, listening wide eyed in wonder, keeps the vivaciousness of life bubbling beneath a hurting surface. Barry Barnes’s Andrey, a soft spoken, remnant of a man trying to stand again, is masterfully sensitive and understated. Horan, knowing less is more, bringing it all to life without inordinate shouts or grand gestures. Knowing truth often lies in listening and not in speaking. In the smallest, often fleeting connections, often barely a glance. Underscored by Colm Maher’s lights, another masterclass in mood and economy.

Many will serve up seasonal offerings this year, often wrapped in the recycled tropes of Christmas past. Without Dickens or a turkey in sight, Afterplay sacrifices easy sentimentality for consolation, compassion, connection and companionship, making it a heartwarming, if unconventional seasonal offering. As a dear friend and fellow critic visiting from Boston remarked, Afterplay is “a three course meal in a bite size snack.” A Christmas meal no doubt, given the time of year.

Afterplay by Brian Friel runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until December 23.

For more information visit Bewley’s Café Theatre.


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