Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter
We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.
Two tired old Russians meet cute in a faded gem of a Moscow cafe, and soon enough it becomes clear that they’ve wandered in from two other shows: Sonya (Nancy Robinette) seems a little blue over the long-ago death of her Uncle Vanya, and those rumpled formals and banged-up shoes make it clear that, 20 years after The Three Sisters, hapless Andrey (Edward Gero) still seems to have trouble keeping his life on an even keel. This is Afterplay, Brian Friel’s elegant sketch of an homage to Chekhov, and a winsome trifle it is in its U.S. premiere at the Studio Theatre. But yes, at an hour and a whisper, it is a sketch and a trifle. Little happens, and little of earthshaking import is revealed in the histories of these two melancholy survivors, both of them subsidiary characters in other, bigger stories. What’s moving is what we discover about them as they unfold their hearts to each other, telling a series of revealing little lies that lead to more-revealing confessions. Andrey’s beaten the bottle, or so he says, but his dear departed Natasha turns out to be very much alive and living with the politico she was carrying on with in The Three Sisters, and the grimmest facts of his life involve not his own failures but the tragedies of a sister and a son; still, this soul-weary man wakens a little—and rediscovers a little of his old sparkle—as he warms to Sonya. Meanwhile, with the help of the occasional nip from the vodka she carries in her voluminous bag, Sonya has been wrestling with the declining fortunes of the family estate and resolutely denying the pathos of her crippling passion for Astrov, the doctor who’s been refusing to requite it since Uncle Vanya. Joy Zinoman directs with a quiet, contained lyricism that’s all the more affecting for its reserve; Friel brings a gentle touch to these two and their sadnesses; and Robinette and Gero make masterfully subtle portraits of them. His Andrey and her Sonya understand, being Chekhov’s creations, that life is made up of disappointments—and yet they both, being Chekhov’s creations, harbor stubborn hope enough that each new disillusionment feels as crushing as the last. —Trey Graham