Some plays roar along on a speeding train, carrying an audience to a climactic moment when, even though they are breathless, the play asks for even more breath.
Others, some of the finest, invite you along for a leisurely walk among the marigolds and then, with a sudden twist of the fates, stops you in your tracks and slaps you right in the face.
That’s "after all the terrible things I do," the world premiere of A. Rey Pamatmat’s searing drama that opened at the Milwaukee Rep's Stiemke Studio Friday night and runs through Nov. 9.
The play is a galvanizing event with a message – or messages – critical to our understanding of the human race. It’s a credit to the Rep to be the first theater to stage it.
The story begins simply enough: Daniel (Mark Junek) has just graduated from college and has moved from the roving excitement of Chicago to the small Midwestern town of his birth. He has come to a bookstore owned by Linda (Sophia Skiles), a Filipina immigrant, looking for a job. The bookstore was a favorite place when he was a young boy.
Linda asks Daniel why he has come to his hometown after living with his father in Chicago.
"I’d rather be somewhere quieter while I figure out life post-college," Daniel says.
She hires him, and we are off on a careful step-by-step journey of "getting to know you."
He is very matter-of-fact when he casually mentions a possible date with a guy. She discourages him from mentioning the fact in any job interviews in this small town. He takes offense and explodes, but Linda manages to calm him and they begin to work together.
Linda has an quivering curiosity about being gay, and Daniel serves as her "angel," providing many of the answers to the questions she has. She also reads the early parts of the novel he is writing, a novel about two men who are in love but haunted by their pasts.
I’m not going to give any of the plot developments away; it would be unfair to audiences still to come. But I do need to say that his play is not just about being gay or being bullied or being the parent of a gay child. Those all play a part.
The main thrust of the play is about the search for a little piece of certain dignity that each of us wants in our lives. It’s about the way we both hide and discover and reveal part of ourselves when our cause is just.
There is a power in this middle-aged Filipina and this wet-behind-the ears white boy in the meeting of two cultures – not just ethnicities, but deep and abiding cultural beliefs and torments. Some people might call this a clash of cultures. But in the end, we find there is no clash.
Instead, it is two rowboats, moving in side-by-side lanes toward a particular finish line that is elusive and fraught with peril. They don’t know it, but they are on the same journey, just overcoming obstacles that they unknowingly share.
Without giving anything away, it’s difficult to explain quite how moving this play is. The opening night audience was as riveted a crowd as I’ve seen in a long time.
Junek and Skiles are two actors at the top of their game, under the direction of May Adrales and in a stunning bookstore designed by Daniel Zimmerman.
I suppose there are small things to quibble about in this play. There are brief moments when it seems a little preachy. But those are nits that we shouldn’t bother to pick.
The way to watch this play is with both an open mind, an open heart and a willingness to be enveloped in swirling cloud of emotion. It’s a tough play but well worth letting the pain and uncertainty of both characters sit down in the seat next to you.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.