To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy families are all alike; every unhappy East Coast Jewish Marxist family is unhappy in its own way.
Consider the Josephs, the three-generation dynasty in Amy Herzog’s taut, witty “After the Revolution.” Their unhappiness explodes after the revelation that the family’s late patriarch wasn’t exactly the purest of comrades.
Now playing at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre, “After the Revolution” is a cautionary tale about a family’s shocking fragility once the mask of self-delusion slips away.
At curtain we meet Ben Joseph, his brother Leo and aged stepmother Vera, exuberant communists all, celebrating the graduation of Ben’s daughter, Emma, from law school in 1999.
Emma follows in the path of her late grandfather, Joe Joseph, a once-blacklisted lefty who never abandoned the Marxist cause. Emma names her radical nonprofit for him.
Things fall apart when Ben learns that a new book will reveal a closely guarded secret about his father’s World War II activities. Let’s just say old Joe gave the Rosenbergs a run for their money. The truth impacts the family hard, especially Emma, whose lifelong principles take a beating.
The Josephs typify a subset of 20th-century Jews who swapped Judaism for the neo-religion of socialism. As Vera says, “Anyone with a beating heart and half a brain was a communist back then.” That faith in the infallibility of Marxism was unshakable, even in the face of its failure and frequent criminality.
Though the play has only one oblique (and very funny) reference to the family’s roots, “After the Revolution” is in essence a Jewish play, most evidently in the Josephs’ dedication to making a better world, skewed leftward though it may be.
Joy Carlin directed a superb cast, especially Ellen Ratner’s wise and crotchety Vera. Jessica Bates plays Emma a bit too shrilly, but as the hub of the story she ably handles her character’s profound disillusionment and dissolution.
Politics aside, “After the Revolution” offers a compelling look at a family in crisis. Of course, the whole reason for the Josephs’ downfall is that politics are never aside.
“After the Revolution” plays through Oct. 6 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. $32-$50. (510) 843-4822 or www.auroratheatre.org