Thursday, February 12, 2015

After Ashley

Play #17 - After Ashley by Gina Gionfriddo

After Ashley starts out in 1999 with 35-year-old Ashley and her 14-year-old son Justin watching a self-help guru on TV. Ashley seems agitated. She keeps trying to have conversations with Justin - she considers the sex talk, but he objects, and when it starts anyway, it all sort of devolves into her airing her own frustrations with his father (Alden). Justin entreats her to stop treating him like a girlfriend, to get out, and get a hobby or something. When Alden comes home, he and Ashley argue over his new decision to hire a mentally ill homeless man to do their yard work. Once they finish arguing, the action is overtaken by a voice over of a 911 call: it's Justin, crying out that his mother has been murdered and that he will not leave her side. The action then jumps three years later. Justin and his father are being interviewed for a true crime show hosted by a man named David, whose estranged 17-year-old daughter had been murdered ten years before. Alden has become something of a celebrity in the wake of Ashley's death, having written a book about the experience called After Ashley. Justin is combative and abrasive throughout the interview, clearly frustrated with the dramatic half-truths his father has perpetuated about his mother for his own benefit. After they finish taping, David pulls Alden aside and offers him a spot hosting a new version of the show: it would film in Florida, it would feature reenactments of sex crimes, and it would, of course, share the name After Ashley. Justin is appalled, but acquiesces to his father's desires, as long as he is provided with an allowance, a car, and his own apartment once they move to Florida. Once in Florida, Justin meets a girl named Julie at a bar. She approaches him because she recognizes him as "The 911 Kid," but they end up sleeping together anyway. The next morning, Alden and David come by to tell Justin that they will be opening a luxury battered women's shelter to be named "Ashley's House." Justin objects strenuously, but the money and fame hungry men ignore him. When they leave, Justin reveals to Julie his plans to shut down all of this Ashley business once and for all. He has his mother's journal, which details how she took Justin's advice to go out and get a hobby: she took part in orgies. And in the journal is the phone number of the name who led the orgies... and that man has video footage of them. Justin, it seems, would rather that people know something true and unpleasant about his mother, rather than all the lovely lies he feels they had been sold. Roderick arrives with the video tape, at which point he insists on video taping Justin and Julie having sex as payment. They agree, and get the tape, which they then switch out for the tribute tape at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Ashley's House. Everything is ruined: the show is postponed indefinitely, the home is renamed, etc. Finally, we see Justin and Julie sitting by the water. She chastises him for apparently getting plastered and embarrassing them both in front of her friends. They discuss whether or not they should stay together now that he has done what he set out to do. The ending is left deliberately ambiguous, as Ashley stands behind them, looking with them out at the water.

This is another script that has some good material for college aged students. Julie and Justin have some really lively dialogue. And, I'll be honest, I could probably piece together a pretty great monologue from Ashley's lines in the first scene. The script itself is bit of a heavy-handed discussion of a culture that is so obsessed with spectacle that it is unwilling or unable to process any genuine emotions. Honestly, I'm not exactly sure why the Roderick-driven sex scene is necessary in the dramaturgy of this play, but I suppose it has something to do with genuine human connection being messy. It's sort of a mediocre play about damaged and selfish people, but then again... isn't everyone in at least one of those categories at least some of the time? 

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