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The Possibilities and The After-Dinner Joke

From 8 critic and 20 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Disappointing, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Confusing

About the show

PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) presents a double bill featuring work from English dramatists Howard Barker and Caryl Churchill. More…

In Howard Barker's 'The Possibilities' four short plays explore actions unexplainable by logic or rationality. From the biblical Judith, to Czar Alexander, to a bookseller who hordes her stock for fear that knowledge may fall into the wrong hands, to a woman whose dress is investigated by the state as a provocation to men: these four plays contain all of Howard Barker’s signature wit and complexity. 

Told in 66 brief episodic scenes, the plot of Caryl Churchill's 'The After-Dinner Joke' follows Selby, a young woman who quits her secretarial job to pursue her passion for ‘doing good.’ As a charity worker, she earnestly avoids political issues, only to discover the impossibility of this. “There’s something political in everything.”

'The Possibilities' and 'The After-Dinner Joke' will be performed in rotating rep with 'Brecht on Brecht.'

Show Showdown

"The shows are smart, thought-provoking, and often fun, and these productions are terrific...An amazing evening in the theatre...The four plays of ‘The Possibilities’ make for an almost head-spinning amount of theatre, full of ideas, arguments, superb acting, and so on. But that's all only Act I...Then comes Act II...’The After Dinner Joke’...The writing is astonishingly efficient. The 66 scenes fly Churchill economically skewers the worlds of charity and politics." Full Review


“'The After-Dinner Joke': A biting black comedy...A phenomenal production that is slick and incredibly entertaining...Director Cheryl has conjured an impressive masterpiece...Faraone’s casting is magnificent and she has given every actor an opportunity to shine. There are no weak links...Her direction is clear and focused...A perfect play for our seismic shifting political climate...A double bill with Howard Barker’s potent play, 'The Possibilities.'" Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Both offerings invite the audience to grapple with provocative content that often seems elusive and controversial and that raises numerous essential, enduring questions...Kudos to an unflappable Madeleine Russell who portrays an unconventional woman...Cheryl Faraone takes the directorial helm for Caryl Churchill’s 'The After-Dinner Joke' and guides her talented cast through a successful sailing on the waves of the playwright’s 'stew of twisted narrative chronology.'" Full Review

Culture Catch

"The juxtaposition of these works produces intriguing resonances amidst a sometimes discomfiting, often funny, and always compelling experience...While Churchill's play may feel timely in more specific ways, the questions raised by Barker's short plays are equally relevant. PTP/NYC's production shows that these texts can speak to one another as vitally as they continue to speak to audiences." Full Review

Off Off Online

"Although stylistically quite different, the plays generally fit together well in their emotionally dizzying and intellectually disorienting exploration of power and politics...The plays are presented simply...The focus, therefore, is placed on the plays and their ideas. While the results of the Barker-Churchill double bill are nevertheless a mixed bag, the Potomac Theatre Project is to be commended for showcasing the little-known work of these two luminaries of the British theater." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"'The Possibilities' is a quartet of brief provocations...They have no discernible link, except for a general desire to unsettle, a goal that is achieved on a sliding scale...'The After-Dinner Joke': Inevitably, with a piece as scattershot as this, some bits work better than others...There's no pretending that either of these pieces is a major work, but fans and completists won't want to miss them and there's something inherently valuable about the bracing dose of pessimism they offer." Full Review


"Now in its 32nd Season PTP is producing (in repertory with 'Brecht on Brecht') a double bill of rarely seen short plays by the two authors, Barker's 1986 'The Possibilities' and Churchill's 1978 'The After-Dinner Joke.' While the productions by Richard Romagnoli and Cheryl Faraone, respectively, (PTC/NYC's co-artistic directors) are excellently staged and very well acted, both plays are problematic in various ways." Full Review

The Reviews Hub

"Questionable directing choices present additional hurdles in allowing the work to subsume the audience. Why engage actors in accent and dialect work that simply add distraction to both the viewer and the performer?...'The After-Dinner Joke' is the stronger choice with which to close the night...While rife with imperfections and an occasionally lagging pace, is still a valuable work of theatre that raises or triggers worthwhile questions about humanity’s political struggles." Full Review

Quirky, Smart, Surprising

See it if you enjoy seldom-seen works from interesting and provocative playwrights,intelligently directed and beautifully acted by a talented ensemble

Don't see it if you find scattered scenes, multiple characters and several points of view distracting, or if you prefer more conservative theater.

Clever, Great acting, Entertaining, Thought-provoking, Funny

See it if You enjoy intelligent, humorous, political, well-acted short pieces.

Don't see it if You prefer long-form plays and/or don't get irony or satire.

Intelligent, Clever, Thought-provoking, Great acting

See it if political black comedy (from the 70s/80s but all-too relevant today) interests you & you want great examples from 2 of its best exponents.

Don't see it if you're jaded/apathetic about poverty, political corruption and greed or you're too idealistic & unwilling to be provoked from your naiveté.

Also The direction is uneven in both Barker's and Churchill's pieces, which... Read more Read less

Edgy, Quirky, Relevant, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if you are interested in issues, more than in character development or plot. You like something to chew on.

Don't see it if you want a drama with a plot or a musical. If you don't enjoy being confronted with the craziness of society.

Clever, Cliched, Great acting, Funny, Indulgent

See it if Neither is a play: they are sketches in social satire. P is especially outlandish; After Dinner aspires to a plot. The acting is v strong.

Don't see it if you have patience & an appreciation for dry, bitter humor. Neither is quite as effective at political commentary as it intends.

Ambitious, Disappointing, Exquisite, Funny, Great acting

See it if You can sit through a somewhat dull first play to see the wonderful, charming, captivating second play.

Don't see it if You need every minute to be first rate.

Also If the Caryl Churchill play had been done by itself, I would have rate... Read more Read less

Relevant, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if You like an evening of thinking quickly. Small intimate theatre allows you to feel as if you're part of the action.

Don't see it if If you're looking for easy entertainment.

Very thought provoking. good performances.

See it if You appreciate Howard barker and caryl Churchill plays

Don't see it if You want tradional play.

Great staging, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if Good college production of four Barker and one Churchill rarely seen. Status quo and OxFam are skewered in all.

Don't see it if For fans of The Potomac or The Atlantic Annex only.

Confusing, Disappointing, Dated, Thoughtful, Great acting

See it if POSSIBILITIES: 4 one-acts a la Stoppard+Brecht+Orwell re: despotism. AFTER-DINNER JOKE: Dated, slow, albeit good premise (int'l charity).

Don't see it if Expected more from Caryl Churchill's piece, which felt like extended and simplistic analysis of charity vs. politics as motive for action.

Clever, Intelligent, Dated

See it if Two completely different shows in one. Some very nice acting.

Don't see it if You can’t sit through a deadly dull first hour in order to get to the witty and wicked second hour. Both are dated material. No production

Also values. Low-budget presentation closes out Atlantic Theatre season.

Great staging, Great acting, Quirky, Slow, Disappointing

See it if you enjoy satire, lots of characters in a play and lots of questions as to what exactly is going on.

Don't see it if First collection of plays is too slow & busy; you want to feel emotion while watching; intelligent but unsatisfying.

Disappointing, Good acting, Unusual, Quirky

See it if you like short plays -- some of these vignettes are quite short -- and are a fan of Howard Barker or Caryl Churchill.

Don't see it if you want to see a well-developed plot and characterizations.

Also I liked the second half (Churchill) much more than the first. There ar... Read more Read less

Disappointing, Great acting, Confusing, Quirky, Ambitious

See it if you enjoy short, vignettes that try to explore sacrifice and convenience.

Don't see it if you have high expectations for the writing of Howard Baker and Caryl Churchill.

Also I was disappointed in the first act written by Howard Baker. I thought... Read more Read less

Confusing, Raunchy, Overrated

See it if you enjoy a show that is disjointed with a plot that is very difficult to follow. I still don't know what the writers were trying to say.

Don't see it if you want a logical plot and a clear message.

Also There were a few bright spots, where I was drawn in, but these moments... Read more Read less

Great staging, Great writing, Intelligent

See it if Love Caryl Churchill and quirky plays.

Don't see it if Possibilities is totally forgetable.

Confusing, Relevant, Excellent acting, Non-traditional, Disappointing

See it if you like content involving government repression, authoritarianism, arrogance of the "successful," non-traditional format and good acting.

Don't see it if you dislike struggling to understand what the playwrights are "saying" and characters that are hard to identify with and care about.

During previews
Brilliant second half, Tedious first half, Top-notch production, Great acting, Exuberant

See it if you thrill to Churchill's boisterous and funny satire that belies its 40 years; sit through the tone-deaf Barker shorts, or arrive late.

Don't see it if you don't like to laugh and then realize you've been shown what dire consequences a naive action can have.

Also I'd like to rate the first half 40 and the second half 100, so I've co... Read more Read less

During previews
Absorbing, Political, Scattershot, Thought-provoking, Dated

See it if you would like to see short, episodic pieces by 2 important contemporary British playwrights better known for their full-length plays.

Don't see it if you are not interested in theater that is political, or in short pieces, or you have no patience with material that feels in any way dated.

Also I’m grateful to PTP/NYC for bringing to NY a double-bill of short, ear... Read more Read less

During previews
Clever, Confusing, Disappointing, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if you like provocative stories and thought provoking dialogue. Some plays were more thought out than others.

Don't see it if you dislike full male nudity, stories that are somewhat confusing.

Also The Barker plays were disappointing and confusing. He went more for sh... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (17)