Tonika Todorova is an adventure architect and a passionate lover of the shared human experience.
(left to right: Colin Sphar and Lisa Tejero in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of after all the terrible things I do by A. Rey Pamatmat, directed by Andrew Volkoff. Photo by Michael Brosilow.)
The Chicago premiere of A. Rey Pamatmat’s AFTER ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS I DO offers a perspective on forgiveness through the lens of those who seek atonement while carrying the burden of self-denial and sprinkling it with a dash of truth-humor.
The lead characters, Daniel, a young gay writer and his employer, Linda, a Filipina bookstore owner, make a connection which soon unravels in a series of twists and uncovered secrets that question their fundamental understanding of life and tears into the thin fabric that holds their relationship together.
We are not generally used to feeling sympathy for the bullies of our society. We don’t usually ask how they got to be where they are and we couldn’t care less if they receive their very much needed forgiveness to move on. The Dalai Lama says, “You should not consider tolerance and forgiveness signs of weakness, but as signs of strength.” The characters grapple in AFTER ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS I DO to find the strength to forgive themselves first, before asking for forgiveness from each other. Daniel, played by Colin Sphar, seems to have an easier time at achieving this than his co-star Lisa Tejero, playing Linda. Her task is much greater, as she carries a burden no mother should ever have to bear, but she seems to only take a small step towards redemption in her journey. The characters spend most of the play building a relationship, then watch it crumble, not quite getting to the nub of it until the end, leaving the viewer doing the forgiveness for them.
The cast produces a few authentic, moving moments but is often stuck delivering profound conversations as if acutely aware of the deep-rooted issues, and consequently serve as their own best psychologist. It’s hard to buy that they needed one another to figure out their inner demons when they seem to be so good at self-psychoanalysis. Although this profundity seems to be counterintuitive for the play, it also proves to have the most memorable delivery. There is beauty in the text and at times, Jared Gooding’s light design aids in achieving a much needed metaphysical respite. A nice dichotomy between sublimely delivered Frank O’Hara poetry and felching humor moves the play along, but working too hard to get to the parts that matter slow it down. The beautifully crafted and detailed bookstore set by Chelsea Warren allows the story to be born as if it fell from the shelves amid all the other stories that could be told, but perhaps it would yield more power among those that carry the same bigoted burdens, and not the already ready-to-forgive Chicago audience.
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