The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review

At my interrogations, we just sit like you and I are sitting right now, and they ask me: Why is Islam violent? Why is there violence? What's the difference between Sunni and Shi'a? You put me in jail for this?—Abdul-Aliyy
TranslatorFajer Al-Kaisi & Leila Buck, a wife & mother
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, the creators of The Exonerated, which told the story of six people sent to Death Row for crimes they did not commit, return to documentary theater with Aftermath, an exploration of the Iraq war from the perspective of Iraqi refugees. The play was crafted from conversations the husband and wife team had in Amman, Jordan, on a trip funded by Ford Foundation grants.

With the aid of a translator named Shahid (Fajer Al-Kaisi), eight people tell their war stories. Yassar (Amir Arison) is a confident and hip dermatologist who learns that he loves his country more than status. Basima (Leila Buck) is a Christian woman, a wife and mother who loses everyone she loves in the war. Rafiq (Laith Nakli), born in Fallujah, is a pharmacist who holds no grudges until his nephew is killed by the Americans. There are others, including an imam (Demosthenes Chrysan), who claims the guns found in his mosque were there for purely defensive purposes, in fact supplied by the American military.

Blank (who also directs) and Jensen go to great lengths to give each of their characters a personal story and they are quite successful. Arison is particularly adept at portraying the type of Middle Eastern yuppie enamored of the superficial attributes he believes represent the Western world. Nakli is most successful at making his pain palpable. However, when the various stories of these everyday people turn to their war experiences, they begin to exhibit a remarkable similarity.

"War is hell," is a statement generally attributed to Union general William Tecumseh Sherman, who certainly taught the citizens of Atlanta the truth of that maxim. It is a truth that holds for any war, in any place, at any time, and for any cause. The Nazi citizens in Hitler's Germany could say war is hell. The Confederate citizens supporting a war to maintain the "curious institution" of slavery could do the same. The people caught up in the Vietnam and Bosnian wars. . .the list could go on.

Aftermath is well written and at times brilliantly acted. But, it is a contrived work in that it trades shamelessly on the natural empathy and guilt privileged Americans tend to feel when confronted with the hardships they have caused, or even the horrible conditions they have not caused but that are nonetheless endured by less fortunate people.

The play's conversations are based on the selective memories of people Blank and Jensen interviewed. Rafiq remembers living in harmony not only with Shi'a and Sunni. As he puts it: "we were friends, we didn't care the difference." He adds that their friends and neighbors also included the Jews who lived "next to the mosque." The fact is that there are only a few dozen Jews left in one of the world's oldest Jewish communitiesand in 1969 the bodies of 11 Jews hanged as spies, were displayed in the public square in Baghdad. Nevertheless, Rafiq apparently lived in peace and harmony with his Jew, a blacksmith, who "had this beautiful face."

Another Aftermath character, Asad (Daoud Heidami), is a theater director who talks about working on O'Neill's Great God Brown. He tells us "Before 2003, we work on everything, discuss everything; Aeschylus, Sophocles . . .But after 2003 it became harder to make art. There was no more funding, of course, because there was no more government." Are we really expected to believe that Saddam Hussein allowed artists total freedom of expression?

In her groundbreaking work Coming of Age in Samoa, anthropologist Margaret Mead painted a picture of Samoan adolescents making a smooth transition from childhood to adult in a period of time unmarred by anxiety or confusion. After her death, Mead's work in Samoa was questioned by fellow-anthropologist Derek Freeman who claimed Mead ignored the violence in Samoan life and was fooled by people who told her what they thought she wanted to hear. No doubt Blank and Jensen are thoroughly sincere in their interpretation of the interviews on which Aftermath is based. Yet one can't help but wonder whether they, like Mead, did not believe without question stories that supported positions the Iraquis assumed they had already taken.

We don't need Blank or Jensen or any of the people they interviewed to tell us war is hell. It's pretty obvious the war in Iraq was initiated by the United States under the last regime and that regrettable mistakes were made. The question is what does Aftermath contribute to the plethora of words written about this terrible situation and our understanding of how we got into it —and how we can get out?

Editor's Note: Blank and Jensen's Exonerated was a much simpler less play-like setup than Aftermath, but it introduced people to a situation in our penal system with which many people weren't all that familiar. It, had a long run Off-Broadway and has been produced elsewhere. To read our two reviews in New York go here; for the London review go here.

Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
By Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen
Directed by Jessica Blank
Cast: Fajer Al-Kaisi (Shahid), Amir Arison (Yassar), Leila Buck (Basima), Maha Chehlaoui (Fadilah), Demosthenes Chrysan (Abdul-Aliyy), Daoud Heidami (Asad), Omar Koury (Fouad), Laith Nakli (Rafiq), Rasha Zamamiri (Naimah)
Scenic Design: Richard Hoover
Costume Design: Gabriel Berry
Lighting Design: David Lander
Music & Sound Design: David Robbins
Running Time: 85 minutes
From 9/01/09;opening 9/15/09; closing 10/18/09
New York Theater Workshop, 79 East 4th Street New York 212/239-6200 NYTW 212-460-5475 New York Theater Workshop
Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday — Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm & 8pm, Sunday at 2pm & 7pm
Tickets $65-- special prices for seniors and Sunday $20 rush tickets at box office
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Sept. 13, 2009
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Aftermath
  • I disagree with the review of Aftermath
  • The review made me eager to see Aftermath
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide


©Copyright 2009, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from