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Rep's 'all the terrible things' well-crafted story

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

October 16, 2014

 
WAUKESHA - J. Rey Pamatmat’s “after all the terrible things I do,” now playing at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Steimke Studio, is a drama about shame and the ways we try to deny and live with it.   

The two-person drama is set in a cozy, homey bookstore, beautifully designed by Daniel Zimmerman, somewhere in the Midwest.  

Sophia Skiles and Mark Junek, directed by May Adrales, whose work we experienced in “Yellowman” and “The Mountaintop,” tell their stories of pain and obfuscation, forcing each other over time to reveal some “terrible things.” We like these characters and suffer with them as they progress toward eventual disclosure.  

The story begins with Daniel, a young handsome aspiring writer, returning to his roots in the Midwest. He is seeking a job in a bookstore, where as a kid, he spent many hours crafting his dreams of creating a novel that dealt with some of the issues he himself was struggling with. Linda, the Phillipine woman who owns the bookstore, conducted the interview, and in the process, we begin to get a glimpse of the histories of both characters.  

In the course of their first interaction, Daniel reveals that he is gay, and Linda warns him that he might want to keep that fact private in future job interviews. Daniel is obviously defensive when confronted with her advice, but, nonetheless, she hires him, despite her reservations about his sexual orientation.  

Things go along swimmingly at first. Daniel is a hard worker and enjoys his new job, and she is pleased with his contributions. They both seem quite pleased and affable with each other. But when he asks her to critique his novel-in-progress, things get complicated and uncomfortable for both of them. She believes that his story is autobiographical, and in critiquing his story, he feels that she is critiquing him personally. They both feel threatened by the responses they share.  

Over time, we learn that they both have some secrets they are hiding, even to some extent from themselves. They both push each other to face their pasts and achieve some measure of peace and self-forgiveness. The intrigue of the story is watching this process of self-revelation and acceptance.  

To me, this carefully crafted story underscores the anguish suffered by those who are different and therefore bullied by a judgmental and myopic society. We feel the guilt suffered by both Daniel and Linda as they try to change reality in order to fit into others’ conception of “normal.” It is powerful and beautifully rendered by both actors. We leave the theater more cognizant of the many ways that we make others and ourselves suffer because of subterfuge and closemindedness.  

“after all the terrible things I do” runs through Nov. 9 at the Steimke Studio, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com