BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Capable actors, good direction, fine design and stretches of nice writing cannot disguise the inevitable realization that "After the Revolution" is a lot of fuss over not much of anything.
The irony here is that the agitated heroine of Amy Herzog's new drama repeatedly is told the same thing by her loved ones when she freaks over a family secret.
Opening on Wednesday in the smaller upstairs space at Playwrights Horizons, "After the Revolution" begins promisingly but eventually winds down into seemingly interminable talk before its earnest protagonist finally gets a grip.
The contemporary story set in Manhattan and Boston centers on Emma (Katharine Powell), a brilliant law school grad who's the pride of her staunchly lefty family. Already Emma heads a foundation for social justice named after her recently-deceased grandfather who was blacklisted for refusing to name names before Congress during the Red Scare of the 1950s.
Then Emma learns how her beloved grandfather might not have been so truthful about his association with Soviet comrades. Dismayed by the revelation, Emma becomes incensed that her father (Peter Friedman), uncle (Mark Blum) and other relations never informed her earlier. Emma's curiously immature behavior that follows confounds her family and troubles her boyfriend (Elliot Villar).
Perhaps Herzog never makes Emma's psychological makeup sufficiently clear to account for her overreaction. Maybe the no-big-deal yawns of other family members in Emma's generation apply to the essential story here. Certainly Powell's wan performance as Emma brings little joy to a noble but dreary character. Whatever, the windy two-hour play fails to sustain interest and becomes tiresome in spite of the solid acting displayed in director Carolyn Cantor's smooth, handsome production.
Extra treats gleaming amid the drama's doldrums are the fleeting turns by distinguished veterans Lois Smith and David Margulies, who lend easy authenticity to their respective roles as Emma's crusty which-side-are-you-on Marxist grandma and as the foundation's kindly benefactor. Newcomer Meredith Holzman offers a warmly human presence as Emma's black sheep of a sister.
Designer Clint Ramos' single setting of comfortable furniture and proletarian artwork is cunningly highlighted in various ways by Ben Stanton to depict several homes. Playwrights Horizons almost invariably gives authors tip-top mountings for their works, and the expertise employed on "After the Revolution" helps to make a disappointing play seem not so bad after all.
"After the Revolution" continues through Nov. 28 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.