The Possibilities/The After Dinner Joke

By Andrew Andrews

A woman (Madeleine Russell) is confronted by an official (Kathleen Wise) for attracting attention in Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC)’s production of Howard Barker’s The Possibilities. Original photo by Stan Barouh.

We thought we were getting two shows for the price of one. Turns out, we were getting at least five shows… you might even say more!

Let me explain.

The Possibilities is actually four short plays in one.

The first act, The Unforseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act, depicts Judith months after she decapitates Holofernes, explaining why she is not willing to return to the public eye.

Next, Reasons for the Fall of Emperors depicts Alexander II of Russia as a squeamish ruler who’s nonetheless a bit of a sado-masochist.

In Only Some Can Take the Strain, a woman collects and sells forbidden texts from a shopping cart, eluding the police by disguising herself as a bag lady.

Lastly, in She Sees the Argument But, a young woman is interrogated by a conservative official (“we only want to understand”) as to her reasons for wearing mascara and exposing her ankles. The answer? “I want a man to suffer for me.”

The four pieces were written in 1986 by Howard Barker, who coined the term “Theatre of Catastrophe” to describe his work, which explores actions inexplicable by logic or rationality.

They’re funny in a way, somewhat reminiscent of Monty Python but with a more restrained silliness that makes you question what’s happening instead of writing it off as slapstick.

Next came The After Dinner Joke, Caryl Churchill’s 1978 story about a woman fed up with corporate life who decides to pursue a career promoting charity work, and the ways in which reality conflicts with her ideals.

Similar to Barker’s collection, Churchill’s has even more of a Monty Python feel, including recurring references to pythons as though Churchill is trying to drive the point home.

Unlike Barkers work, however, The After Dinner Joke is a single, continuous story, albeit broken up into diverse (and even more absurd) scenes like you might find in a late night television sketch comedy show.

Which is why I say that we got at least five shows for the low, low price of one. :)

The entire production features Adam Milano, Christo Grabowski, Christopher Marshall, Eliza Renner, Jonathan Tindle, Kathleen Wise, Lucy Van Atta, Madeline Ciocci, Madeline Russell, Noah Liebmiller, Roxy Adviento and Tara Giordano, each serving multiple roles with an overall dynamic that effectively conveys the playwrights’ intentions.

The Possibilities is directed by Richard Romagnoli and The After Dinner Joke by Cheryl Faraone.

You might enjoy this show if you’re fond of Monty Python, but I think you’ll like it even more if you’re a fan of Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker.

If that sounds like you, then give it a shot and come back here to share your reaction with the rest of us!

As always, your reviews help others decide whether they should attend, and your ratings help us help you find future performances you’re sure to love!


Andrew Andrews attended The Possibilities/The After Dinner Joke at Atlantic Stage 2 in Manhattan on Sunday, July 15, 2018 @ 12:34pm to write this review.