Memory on the cliff’s edge in Enda Walsh’s ‘The First Twenty: Afterwards’

Memory on the cliff’s edge in Enda Walsh’s ‘The First Twenty: Afterwards’

Director and writer Enda Walsh discusses “Afterwards,” presented in partnership with the Irish Arts Center as part of “The First Twenty”

[Video: “The First Twenty: Afterwards.” Download transcript. Download audio description for the audio-described version (AD, CC) of the film.]

In Enda Walsh’s “The First Twenty: Afterwards,” a woman wades through memory, with waves of emotions amplified by jump cuts as she tries to reconcile the ending of one life and the start of a new one. At the center of the monologue is the question: “From now on, everything will be different — but how?”

The film debuts Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. Eastern on the ALL ARTS app, website and broadcast channel as part of “The First Twenty,” an ongoing series from ALL ARTS that surveys the impact of the first 20 years of the 21st century on American art, culture and the collective consciousness.

Captured predominately in black and white, the 15-minute-monlogue is performed by New York-based Irish actor Sarah Street and is presented in partnership with the Irish Arts Center, which has included the work in its “Grásta: Grace in Uncertainty, 2020-2021” series.

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When asked what inspired the work, Walsh responded that he was “not altogether sure — I just found myself writing it.”

“It seems to be about change, a catastrophic change where the world is altered and a person needs to continue,” the playwright told ALL ARTS over email. “The past clings on but incrementally even that feels gone/dead.”

Throughout the monologue, the speaker describes approaching the “cliff’s edge” of a memory that divides a past and a present. Stitching together the fragments is a visibly emotional journey for the character. And though the catastrophe isn’t named outright, the viewer feels how it has imprinted itself on her.

“The whole of my past has disappeared from that day since,” she says, trying to stay in the specifics of the memory a little longer. “And moment by moment, it disappears to what we call ‘before.’”

Later, trying to remember the particulars, she states: “Everything is gone. All is forgotten. Everything.”

Sarah Street in "The First Twenty: Afterwards" Photo Credit: Mac Smith.
Sarah Street in “The First Twenty: Afterwards” Photo Credit: Mac Smith.

In choosing to present the work as a monologue, Walsh explained that he was “trying myself to understand what this young woman was going through.”

“It’s charged by the anxiety of everything slipping away. And then what does the person do?” he explained. “I guess I wanted to feel that out through one voice.”

Structurally, the past presses on the speaker through the framing of the film — which starts in a square format and slowly expands to full-screen toward the end of the work as the piece switches to color. During the in-color segments, Street dances outside and the camera makes its way around New York City.

Sarah Street in “The First Twenty: Afterwards.”

“I wanted to keep everything minimal. Reducing the frame — and moving from black and white to colour — editing and cutting through her talking,” Walsh said. “The frame reducing puts pressure on her; the editing into her talking suggests that she may have been talking for a much longer time; and the cut to colour allows us to breathe a little … as does the dance … But then it returns to something similar to the start.”

Written and directed by Walsh, the work was edited by Jack Phelan, who has collaborated with Walsh on past projects “The Second Violinist” and “Arlington.” Tom Rowley was director of photography.

“The First Twenty” will continue this fall with the premiere of “Ma’s House” by Jeremy Dennis, fine art photographer and member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. Eastern. “The First Twenty: 20 Years of Asian American Playwriting” — created by Ralph Peña, producing artistic director of the Ma-Yi Theater Company — debuts Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

“The First Twenty: Afterwards” premieres Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. Eastern on the ALL ARTS broadcast channel (available in the New York metro area) and the ALL ARTS website and app.

For more information about “The First Twenty,” led by ALL ARTS artistic director James King, visit the program page.

“The First Twenty: Afterwards” can be streamed with or without audio descriptions (AD) or American Sign Language (ASL).

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