Actress and author Zoe Kazan's “After The Blast” is a domestic drama set in a dystopian future. Its Chicago premiere at Broken Nose Theatre, directed by JD Caudill, is engrossing despite how long it takes to set up the situation, some unnecessary digressions and limited resources.
The setting is three generations after a nuclear disaster forced the remaining population — only the educated elite — to move into cramped underground cities, where they mainly work and virtually “sim” diversions that used to be real. Oliver (Ruben Carrazana), a scientist researching the possibilities of returning to the now-desolate frozen surface, and his wife Anna (Kim Boler), a former teacher, desperately want to have a child, but her bouts of depression have prevented them from getting the requisite government permission, and they've exhausted all but the last of their five allowed tries.
In an effort to dispel Anna's blues, Oliver brings home a small robot and assigns her the task of training it to be a helper to a senior or other person in need. At first, she's reluctant, even angry, but after naming the robot “Arthur” because it reminds her of R2D2, she begins to get attached, especially as it is a fast learner. Soon Anna and Arthur are thoroughly bonded, but there are cracks in her marriage. She's well enough to get permission to have a baby, but painful betrayals emerge, and all does not go as planned.
Besides Oliver and Anna, the characters include their friends Patrick (David W. Lipschutz) and Carrie (understudy Taylor B. Hill on opening night), whose road to parenthood is smoother, and Margarita (Ana Ortiz-Monasterio Draa), the woman to whom Arhur is assigned. All the acting is solid, but the standout is the little robot voiced by Arielle Leverett, even if it doesn't look the least bit like R2D2.
Jabberwocky Marionettes was responsible for the puppet design. Therese Ritchie's scenic design makes good use of the small space with the help of Cat Davis' lighting design featuring color-changing cubes suspended from the ceiling. Rae Segbawu's sound design adds atmosphere. Jessica Van Winkle's costumes don't seem to belong to any specific time or place.
I had no particular expectations about “After The Blast,” but was glad I saw it.