Ben Joseph, the lead character in the Caldwell Theatre's After the Revolution, is a fascinating specimen. An academic, dyed-in-the-wool socialist with a pompous ponytail, Ben continues to raise his tattered red flag, spreading the people's gospel at a time when nobody wants to hear it. You see, After the Revolution is set in 1999, so Ben is a Marxist long after it was cool and years before it would become cool again. He's displeased with "pro-business" President Bill Clinton, and he mutters the kicker: "It's hard to imagine things getting much worse."This is a self-aware, lazy joke obviously aimed at a 2011 audience still living the "much worse." It's a good thing it's the only line in playwright Amy Herzog's astonishing work that sounds at all telegraphed. The rest of her astute comedic drama exhibits profound insight into human behavior, and its mounting at the Caldwell is one of the best and most fulfilling stage productions of the year. The plot hinges on a secret revealed shortly after the play begins. Ben's (Gordon McConnell) daughter Emma (Jackie Rivera), a law-school graduate carrying the torch of her family's social-justice activism, has pooled her time and resources into a nonprofit fund to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the famous Black Panther and, many assert, a wrongly convicted cop killer. She has named the fund after her grandfather Joe, an inspirational liberal who refused to name names during the McCarthy hearings.
Sun., Nov. 20, 2 p.m., 2011