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Theater review: 'AfterMath' at the Odyssey Theatre

February 9, 2011 | 11:50 am

The past is very much prologue in “AfterMath,” Elliot Shoenman’s feisty, affecting new drama, now at the Odyssey Theatre.  After two decades of marriage and family, math professor Bob Goldstein jumps into the Hudson River, leaving nothing but a 14-word suicide note.

AM_00021“The traditional wedding gift for 20 years is china,” deadpans his widow, Julie (Annie Potts). 

A few years after Bob’s death, his family is still numb. An anxious Julie has nightmares, can’t keep a job, and harangues her children, Eric (Daniel Taylor) and Natalie (Meredith Bishop), into keeping their distance. They manage their mother’s emotional outbursts by dreaming of escape and resenting Julie’s connection with family friend, lawyer and sometimes handyman Chuck (Michael Mantell). 

It’s a textbook case but brought to messy, vibrant life under Mark L. Taylor’s confident direction. Gary Guidinger’s cluttered kitchen and bedroom set, over which an image of Bob’s note is projected, captures the insidious way a suicide creates a crippling narrative that people live by, despite their best efforts. The more the Goldsteins try to protect one another from the truth, the more trapped they become.

Despite some plot contrivances, therapy speak and perhaps one too many menopause jokes, Shoenman’s play is powered by an emotional authenticity both funny and wrenching. (Julie: “You live, it’s a failed suicide. You die, it’s a success. Talk about ... up terminology.”) The full-throttle Potts (“Designing Women”) delivers plenty of fireworks, although the actress compels most when quiet, evoking deeper responses from the rest of the cast.  At the end of this fast-moving 80 minutes, you’ll feel you’ve been through all the stages of grief. And emerge, moved, on the side of life. 

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“AfterMath,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 13. $25 and $30. (310) 477-2055 or Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Photo: Annie Potts in "AfterMath." Credit: Ed Krieger.