Theatre Mirror Reviews - "After Ashley"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Larry Stark

"After Ashley"

By Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Shawn LaCount

Set & Costume Design by Prav Menon-Johansson
Scenic Design by Jill Domings Video Artist Liz Rodda
Lighting Design by Meaghan Dutton-Blask
Sound Design & Composition by Nathan Leigh
Technical Director Mark Abby VanDerzee
Assistant Stage Manager Alexandra Hsie
Stage Manager Sarah Cohan

Justin Hammond...Jonathan Orsini
Ashley Hammond......Kelly Lawman
Alden Hammond.........Ed Hoopman
David Garvin.......Naheem Garcia
Julie Bell..........Ana Nogueira
Roderick Lord......Lonnie McAdoo

What is Truth in our age of "reality" television? (Just remember that old word of advice: "Once you learn to fake sincerity, you can make a mint with it!")
Well, the truth is that the power of Gina Gionfriddo's "After Ashley" depends on a series of so many surprises that any reviewer ought to keep secret. In contention through most of the play is what was or was not the truth about Ashley Hammond --- a mercurial, dissatisfied mother of a fourteen-year-old son with a present-yet-absent husband/father. As the play opens Kelly Lawman paints her as a delightfully restless possessive mother using her son as a confidant/therapist/guru. She is an accident eagerly rushing away toward destruction in all possible directions.

"After Ashley" is the title of the best-selling memoir that her husband created. The play suddenly slips three years ahead, and Ed Hoopman's Alden Hammond and his son are being interviewed on national television by Naheem Garcia playing an expert in smooth sincerity. The son's disagreeing interruptions, he insists, only add drama and conflict to his show --- and he sees Alden Hammond as himself a possible host/interviewer for a whole new program.

But this turns out to have been Justin Hammond's play all along. Sullenly resentful, outraged at the half-truths and outright lies, Jonathan Orsini plays this oft ignored seventeen-year-old nay-sayer as deeply wounded yet struggling to keep the truth alive. He is, as a matter of fact, as complicated and perhaps as self-destructive as his mother.

But his parents have made him famous, and his fame attracts a groupie. Ana Nogueira plays her as curious, angry and hurt at his anger, but sympathetic, amazed at his father's cold egocentricities, and ultimately eager to cooperate with Justin's surprising efforts to make what truths he knows about his mother violently public.

Near play's end, enter Lonnie McAdoo as perhaps the ultimate purveyor of reality television: a "sexual consultant" offering frustrated clients a chance to have their fantasies played out on tape which he will direct, shoot, and deliver --- for a fee. His "insights" into buried urges are apparently influenced greatly by this professional orientation to people.

The play hews a narrow line between sharply observed insights into family discords and the grating abrasions of their differing aspirations, and the exaggerations that are inevitable when the curious eye of television makes the private public.

There are finely tuned details here, projected bits of video by Liz Rodda, and careful control from Director Shawn LaCount. But, as in any fascinating stage story, LaCount's ultimate compliment lies in the fact that these always interesting actors seem to be living, not acting.

( a k a larry stark )

"After Ashley" (27 October - 18 November)
The Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA
1 (617)933-8600

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