"After all the Terrible Things I do" review- An Intriguing Play

About Face Theatre is currently presenting the Chicago premiere of A. Rey Pamatmat’s play “ After all the Terrible Things I Do”, directed by Artistic Director Andrew Volkoff through April 10, 2016 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. Starring Colin Sphar as Daniel and Lisa Tejero as Linda, the single-act production takes place in the temporal sense in “an independent bookstore in an average-sized unremarkable Midwestern town”, but really occurs in the hearts and minds of every human being struggling with the problem of self-knowledge, transformation and becoming the person we want most to be.

Colin Sphar as Daniel and Lisa Tejero as Linda in "After all the Terrible Things I Do"

In this play, we are presented with both a man and a woman guilty of homophobic bullying. In Dan ‘s case, his despised “girlish” high school classmate has become his lover-stalker. Another classmate he taunted-and kissed- just happens to be his employer, Linda’s, tormented gay son; she believes she’s partially the catalyst for this young man's suicide. Both  people exist in a welter of self-loathing- he is trying to project his guilt into the characters in his novel; she pulls and pushes at him to reveal himself before she can admit her own mirrored faults. It’s a heady brew, and, understandably, bogs down into pat shrillness at times, but, for the most part, both the angst and the palpable relief each feels as discourse becomes confession ring true.

Lisa Tejero and Colin Sphar as Linda and Daniel

Despite their fraught consciences, both Dan and Linda are extraordinarily ordinary. And perhaps this is what draws us in so completely: we also worry about how we’ve behaved, whom we’ve injured, how to make reparations, how to feel whole again despite our transgressions. The play opens in a paradise of a bookstore, “Books to the Sky”, a comfortable cozy place filled with the books we want to hold in our hands, enticingly backlit, as unlike your Nook or Kindle as your family den was to Ikea’s showroom. This reviewer spied “Girl With a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier down front and center, and was immediately returned to the world of Johannes Van der Meer- until my attention was caught by the  all-American charm of the  male character. Daniel, his cowlick awry, is  visibly rehearsing for his imminent interview with Linda, the Filipina owner of this favorite store from childhood.  The fact that he had to act, to prepare, was a harbinger of his real purpose- confession and shriving.

Colin Sphar and Lisa Tejero in the bookstore

But Daniel gets a lot more than he bargained for. Linda tells him how phony he is from the get-go, and as he begins and then settles into his employment in the bookstore, she draws out of him his real story as well as his purported story, and bludgeons him with her own. Ultimately, they both have seemingly fully vented, and appear to have accepted each other.  Perhaps that's as close as any of us will come to forgiveness. 

Lisa Tejero and Colin Sphar witnessing each other's pain in "After all the Terrible Things I Do"

This is much more than a tale of a woman seeking to understand “an alternative lifestyle”. This is a man who looks like an innocent, who writes at night about sweet, sweet love, but who really has morphed from abuser to complicitly involved in a sado-masochistic affair, in which he’s being pushed to hurt the significant other. By day, he is being unraveled by his “straight” employer, who proves to know a lot more about hurting those she loves than we would ever have supposed. She draws out his story, lambasts his motives, fires and rehires him, and then exposes her own venomous truths. And the end? Go see the play- it’s very well written, compellingly well acted and will leave you wondering just which charachter is the more sophisticated, more skilled at inflicting pain and seeking redemption.

Colin Sphar and Lisa Tejero talking it out in the bookstore

This is highly recommended.

Information and tickets to "After all the terrible things I do" at About Face Theatre

 

Photos courtesy of Michael Brosilow

 

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