Despite being overwhelmingly enjoyable to view, Afterwords disappointed on more than one front. After having thoughtfully contemplated the story, I felt the characters lacked development around the mental health issues they faced, and the plot had a very disheartening resolution. The musical opens with a well-delivered monologue, from a character named Jo, then progresses into the story of two young sisters, arty Simone, and Kali, the older, Grammy-nominated sister. They live in their recently deceased mother’s home together. They both struggle with grief in a realistic way—Simone tries to push it down, and Kali is deeply bitter. When Simone brings up the fact that they really need another source of income and suggests they get a roommate, Kali is extremely defensive, but eventually relents when Jo, a war reporter, shows up on their doorstep to apply to be a tenant; she recently lost someone very important too.
Throughout the musical, the performers showcased their talents. For instance, the dancers sometimes joined the actors in incredible, expressive dances—they were less like dance numbers and more like pieces of art. The dancers moved with spectacular flexibility and grace. Still, that wasn’t the only impressive talent. The actors—especially Kerstin Anderson who played Simone—who sang throughout the performance, were also fantastic. I give the casting director and the casting assistants, as well as the actors themselves, a strong five-star rating.
Looking at the stage was quite breathtaking after seeing only relatively small sets for the past two years. The set was multi-level and filled with exquisite details, like a colorfully patterned blanket on Simone’s bed. The stage even spun such that it could become unrecognizable and a different set! The cast clearly worked well as a group, and the lighting and music were beautiful and perfectly in sync. All those factors combined enabled the show to demonstrate timely themes of the importance of family, and the deep, mental impact of grief.
While Afterwords had the utmost strength and flair, I felt it had some pretty important deep, plot-related flaws. One of my main issues was, despite the excellent portrayal of grief by the actors, the grief never caused us to go deeper into their characters and therefore never really developed. At the end, the characters hadn’t changed very much, and were arguably only a little less bitter. The characters' seemed to play into their typecast personalities. The next big issue was that two different characters' key affairs (in one case substance abuse and in another mental health problems) were never addressed. Even though they were plot points, the resolution of the story never showed any sort of recovery. Despite the fact that unchecked substance abuse is an often life-threatening issue, the character never did any sort of therapy, counseling, or rehab. It seemed that the substance abuse was simply sung away. My final issue with Afterwords was the fact that the climax, or surprise reveal as some might call it, wasn’t in fact all that surprising. Although the plot had clearly worked up to that point, I felt the theoretical twist was hardly all that surprising.
In spite of this, I enjoyed and appreciated the cast's performance and the general talent gracing the stage. I also applaud the all-female leads, including the fact that two were queer and one was queer, PoC, and female. I also admire the fact that through COVID-19 and the many understudies, the performers sounded fantastic and showcased top tier technique in everything from their comedy to their choreography. This was specifically apparent for the actress who played Kali (Eliza Palasz) and the actor who played Jo’s best friend Franklin (André G. Brown). However, despite all these amazing things, the lack of character development and anticlimactic ending downplayed the talent of the actors and this promising show. In conclusion, while Afterwords was set to be distinguished, through the cast, crew, and set, its shortcomings left this reviewer discontented.