Maybe After He’s Gone is the name of Dan’s 7th play, and it’s a first part of what he calls the ‘Odessey and Oracle’ series – named after the album by The Zombies.
The play itself takes its title from a song in that album as well. While existing as a smaller scale play compared to some of his other larger & more cosmic ones, this play still drills deeply into great character psychologies and perennial questions – and extends themes explored in previous plays.
Like a lot of Dan’s other plays, this one deals with characters well in their Autumn years – at a point in time where their core fundamentals have been hardened through experience (though whether they consciously realize this or not is still up in the air). It focuses on a critical juncture in the lives of these characters while animating their past memories through the use of dialogue and flashback techniques.
One primary thrust of the play is represented by the epigraph used at the start: a quote by Cicero on “six mistakes that mankind keeps making century after century”. The narrative of the play, and the characters within – will embody various parts of these six mistakes, and even provide possible answers for how to escape from them. In a larger scope, it also provides a variety of answers for the act of living itself.
To quickly outline the narrative: the story focuses on 3 siblings of Polish descent – Tom, Lynn, and Lauren. Tom is in the hospital after almost ODing from drugs, and he is visited by Lynn and Lauren. Lynn and Lauren hate each other due to various past issues and emotional hang-ups – and they go after each other’s throats for the duration of the whole play. All three siblings have their own psychoses, most likely caused by being the children of abusive parents. Lynn is the most bitter and resentful, while Lauren is the most stable and has managed to escape from developing any serious problems – but has a lot of turmoil on the inside. Dan has said before that he usually structures each play around a core distinct character – and Lynn might fill that role in this case (the other epigraph, which makes use of the actual song lyrics from the Zombies seems to point to her personality), but I find all three siblings to be stand-out in their personalities.
In Act 1, Lynn and Lauren visit Tom in the hospital and bicker around him. Halfway through the play (Act 2 Scene 2), Tom commits suicide by jumping into the hospital pool. In Act 3, Lynn and Lauren have to deal with whether to sue the hospital or not – while more about their past & character is revealed. This culminates in a kind of stand-off between Lynn, Lauren, and Lauren’s sister-in-law Laura (who Lauren considers a good friend & ‘replacement’ sister). Both sisters get into a cat-fight and then split off for good. At the end, Lynn leaves Lauren a voicemail to tell her that she has cancer (due to her own alcoholism) – and the play cuts off.
The conflict between the sisters stems from a few main things. One of these things is the fact that Lynn was a beauty back in the day, and has now declined due to age and alcoholism – Dan’s character list even takes note of this aspect. She used to be popular with the guys and was sexually promiscuous, and is now bitter and alone. The other conflict-spurring thing is that Lauren used to date Danny Wagner (Dan’s artistic alter-ego) back in the day, and they had underage sex (Danny was 13 & Lauren was 12) in a viewing of Star Wars back in their youth. Lynn caught them doing this and accused Danny of being a rapist despite the fact that both were underage & it was consensual. Danny’s reputation in the neighborhood was ruined, and Lauren, who didn’t know better at the time, completely bought into it and was drawn into her sister’s manipulation. It is implied that Lynn’s motives for doing this was that Danny was one of the boys that she couldn’t get her hands on – and so she was pissed & insecure that he went with Lauren instead.
To make things easier, here is a short summary of what happens in every scene:
Act 1 Scene 1: Lynn visits Tom and they talk about things. Soon, a black nurse called Flo enters & wants to examine Tom. Lynn leaves the room and Lauren soon arrives. They begin to bicker, and then Flo calls them both back when she’s done. A Vietnamese Doctor named Doctor Tranh comes to examine Tom as well. When Flo & Dr Tranh leaves, both sister continue to bicker. The scene ends with Tom farting while the two sisters are at each other’s throats.
Act 1 Scene 2: Tom, Lynn, and Lauren are in the same room. Silence occurs for the first minute, and then the three siblings chat & bicker (moreso the two sisters than Tom). During this scene, Dan’s poem War Comix #1452 is projected on the wall when Tom starts talking about superhero comics. The scene ends with another fart.
Act 1 Scene 3: Lauren gives a soliloquy about her own life & her past with Danny. This is a meta-fictive soliloquy because she makes a comment about “not doing this before…not capable of speaking like Shakespeare”.
Act 2 Scene 1: Lauren and Lynn talk in the hospital cafeteria about various things & the Danny Wagner incident. The scene ends with Lynn getting pissed and storming off.
Act 2 Scene 2: Flo comes to look for Lauren & Lynn and brings the news that Tom has disappeared. Lynn threatens to sue the hospital. Both Flo & Lynn leave, and Lauren goes into a flashback of a past boyfriend called Anthony. After the flashback, she returns into soliloquy and talks about how Danny was a better boyfriend. Then, she has another flashback with Lynn (both in early 30s) at Coney Island. It shows a scene with her pissing in Lynn’s drink to get back at her. Lauren returns to soliloquy and recounts some more childish and possibly dangerous pranks pulled against Lynn. It then returns to the cafeteria where Dr Tranh & Flo relay the news that Tom has drowned in the swimming pool. Lynn is happy and celebrates.
Act 2 Scene 3: Lauren has a soliloquy after Tom’s death – while sitting by his empty hospital bed.
Act 3 Scene 1: Lauren is in her living room talking with Laura about what to do when Lynn arrives – and how they’ll deal with the hospital situation. Lynn arrives and the three-way showdown begins. Laura finally disses Lynn straight in her face about what a bitch she is, and an excerpt from The Picture of Dorian Gray is projected while she tears Lynn apart. Lynn doesn’t really care and swears at them & leaves to go to the bathroom. Lauren tells Laura that she can handle her sister herself, and that Laura should leave.
Act 3 Scene 2: Lauren and Lynn face-off against each other. It then cuts to a flashback of the scene where Danny fucks Lauren in the theatre, and Lynn appears and causes havoc. When it cuts back, the two exchange a few more verbal blows before Lauren begins crying due to how pissed she is. The doorbell rings and it’s Laura – who forgot her keys. Now the three-way returns & continues – until the sisters finally break out into real fighting. During the three-way, Dan’s Holy Sonnet 30 is projected in the back. The scene ends with Lauren kicking Lynn out.
Act 3 Scene 3: Lauren is at home and receives a call from her husband. After finishing the call, she goes to Danny’s Omniservica website and reads Dan’s Poem – In Love. Lynn’s voicemail comes in and she tells Lauren about the cancer, while also trying to make up with her. The play ends when the message cuts off.
Themes & Characters
Let’s return to the first mistake listed by Cicero: “Believing that personal gain is had by crushing others”. This falls in with Lynn’s accusation of Danny Wagner being a rapist. It also comes up when Tom dies – and Lynn is completely unrepentant about his death (she is joyous that she doesn’t have to take care of her burden of a brother, and she even dances), and instead cares about gaining money from suing the hospital. In a surprising way, this is also slightly revealed through Lauren’s own dealings against Lynn – with the childish pranks she pulls like pissing in her tea & giving her a concussion by leaving a bunch of roller skates out when Lynn went to collect the mail. In her soliloquy, Lauren says that she regrets, but is then quick to try and justify herself to the audience – revealing that she, too, is not as balanced as she appears, and is also rather delusional in some aspects. On the other hand, she is still better off than her siblings & shows self-consciousness and understanding of higher things somewhat.
For many of these ‘mistakes’ – the alternative, or ‘solution’ to some of them is displayed in the character of Tom. Tom is a drug addict, loser, and a pervert (when Lauren first sees him & hugs him, she gets her arms stained with jizz because he’s been masturbating) – and he spends much of the play kind of in his own world – and his eventual suicide indicates that he finally gave up on life after receiving so much shit from it.
Yet, it is remarkable character-building on the part of Dan that he can make such a character up as a kind of paragon of virtue – at least when played off Lynn. Tom has none of the resentment that Lynn has, and despite being a loser (and is also called as such by Lynn) – he is rather in sync with his inner nature – even if it should lead him to downfall. Optimistically, this can be read as him striving to never let his inner demons show or affect anyone else. Pessimistically, this can be read as him fatalistically separating himself from life.
The play allows for both views – and Lauren even has a comment that he is supremely apathetic towards everything, but Laura also reveals his opposing good nature when talking about how, despite being an addict and a loser – he “would always play Santa Claus at Christmas get togethers… was kind and my children have many good memories of him and those visits”.
Beyond that, Dan also uses Tom’s interest in pop culture and the random stuff he spews as a means to hide cosmic asides and hidden significant symbols in the play. The play opens with Tom talking about how his Dad believed that Pee Wee Reese was the greatest shortstop, even though Tom thought that this was wrong and silly. This creates parallels to the theme of limited perception (e.g. on the part of Lynn and her biases, but also for the hang-ups of all 3 siblings). He is also the primary ‘farter’ of the play, and this is, as I have mentioned in my analysis of TTAD, a Dan motif that represents the primal undercurrents of life (he uses it in many of his other plays). He’s also the first one to title-drop the play, as seen over here:
To talk about bit more about the title & the song. You can see the lyrics for the Zombies’ song Maybe After He’s Gone – over here. In the context of this excerpt, Tom is revealing how much of a clingy wreck he was, and Lynn rightly calls him “delusional”. Yet, this parallels the end of the play itself, when the answering machine message that Lynn leaves also has that phrase – with the ‘he’ referring to Tom:
This becomes highly ironic, and when you take note of the lyrics (and the specific part that Dan used as an epigraph) – it could easily reflect how desperate & at the end of her rope Lynn is (her actions mirroring the ‘loser’ Tom). It is up to Lauren to decide, at the end of the play, whether to read it as genuine repentance, or a manipulative & selfish call from an ego slowly being strangled by loneliness (as with any great & complexly sketched psychology – it could be both). This is not the only interpretation. The title itself hangs up there and implies a kind of passing, and so it could be linked to a lot of things that various characters are ‘throwing away’ (Another example: the confrontational and aggressive aspect of humanity could also be read as the ‘he’ in the title – a sort of cosmic masculine symbol – with the deaths of both Lynn & Tom freeing Lauren from that dark part of herself)
That cosmic masculine aspect interpretation is also supported by the appearance of the poem War Comix #1452 in the play – which I’ve analysed before. This creates many implications when linked up with the tirade against the unreality of superhero comics that Tom makes:
Above all else, Tom works as a comic character – and provides a touch of levity from his unrepentant dirtiness & good humour. This serves to undercut all the moments when Lynn goes after him and he shrugs it off (and it also contrasts against the negative example of Lauren, who always falls for Lynn’s taunts & attacks).
This falls under Cicero’s 4th mistake: “Refusing to set aside trivial preferences” – and this is reflected in Tom’s love for pop culture detritus & video game addiction (although utilized by Dan to great effect, within the universe of the play – it merely shows his lack of the deeper view), in Lauren’s pettiness with anything related to Lynn, and with Lynn’s own promiscuity (unable to see the good traits in Tom & Danny Wagner – and instead caring about ornamenting her own ego through sex & romance) and pettiness towards anything. Lauren is shown to have signs of escaping this when she reads Danny’s (or Dan’s) poem at the end of the play, and is moved by a sort of realization about things – although we never know if she can ever take the next step (but she’s given an opportunity with Lynn’s message).
How Dan treats the character of Lynn is very interesting. While Lauren gets soliloquies that cores into her own thoughts & doubts – Lynn has none of that. Although there are a lot of subtle implications, there is never a direct dive into what she feels – except maybe through the Dorian Gray excerpt. There are only a few other moments where we get to see her vulnerability, and they hint at a capacity for change – but most of the time she is back into her own vicious spite. One of these vulnerable moments comes when she tearfully reveals some of her insecurities – people made fun of her looks before she became a beauty, and she ‘gave kisses’ to boys because she didn’t want them to feel left out the way she initially was. It’s an extremely pitiable moment for such an unrepentant demon of a character – though a cynic might read those tears as crocodile tears:
These moments are what makes Lynn human – pointing to many different causes for her personality – abusive parents, childhood teasing, her pride and ‘privilege’ of being beautiful, this initial bid to ‘do good’ by kissing other boys, jealousy at her sister etc… Yet, despite these myriad causes, she still has to bear her own cross to the end – including her (implied) loneliness, her alcoholism, and alienating her family from herself.
Although, earlier, I said that Tom was the core comedic character of the play – Lynn actually has her own moments of humour in a blackly comic kind of way (though some of the humour comes from her not realizing how psychotic she’s being). One moment comes when, while discussing suing the hospital – she goes off on an analysis of which Jew lawyer is the ‘savagest Jew’ (this becomes funnier if you’ve read the chapter from A Norwegian with that exact name) while Laura & Lauren are horrified at her bigotry:
In looking at Lynn, you can tick off all the mistakes listed by Cicero. I’ve already mentioned 1 & 4 – but the rest come into play & can be attached to different parts of her (except maybe 2 – which comes into play with Lauren’s angst towards Lynn – despite it not being worth the effort). Lynn displays mistake 3 when she continually jabs at Lauren’s marriage & her husband’s cheating – because she cannot believe in a mature relationship that can overcome even that due to her own immature view of relationships. 5 is obvious. And 6, probably one of the most important of all the mistakes when it comes to the themes of the play – is shown in the ways in which she tries to frame Lauren, Tom, and also Danny in her own values due to her inability to see beyond her own ego.
Now, we come to probably the most subtly complex character within the entire play – Lauren. And this comes more from what she doesn’t say, rather than what she reveals. Even though she has several soliloquies throughout the play – there are a lot of things hidden underneath that are only implied. Most importantly – how she reflects certain traits of Lynn’s, even though she might wish to deny it.
I mentioned the fact of the childish pranks earlier, and her quick defensiveness & justification in that monologue might just imply that she is as quick to defend herself as much as Lynn is. More telling is how she talks about her relationship with Danny Wagner, and how she frames it that Danny was “mine, my guy, my thing, my listener, my acknowledger. He was mine and mine alone, until Lynn took him away for good”. When you take into account Danny Wagner’s character throughout all of Dan’s plays – his largeness & his deeper understanding – then this showcases much of her narrower view (though, not necessarily her fault). Lauren touches the larger Danny Wagner only at the end of the play – when she reads his poem.
In fact, the only scene where Danny appears – the flashback in the theatre – is surprising for how un-dramatic it is, despite it being a key event in both Lauren and Lynn’s lives and the cause of their bitter fighting. It is extremely amusing, and Danny himself doesn’t seem to take it that seriously – while an usher who is present makes comedic jibes such as calling the angry Lynn & immaturely naïve Lauren part of Danny’s ‘harem’:
All these moments paint a silly side to Lauren that is the partial cause for her problems – she gullibly gets manipulated by her sister, gets dragged into meaningless fights with her sister, attaches too much weight to a fling when she was 12-years old (when she lacks the courage to speak to Danny years after the event), enacts childish & possibly dangerous pranks on her sister, and, in the end, the one who resolves the fight & really helps her throw Lynn out is Laura.
Leaving Lauren at that, let’s touch on Laura. She shows signs of intelligence and composure that the two sisters lack (though Lauren is trying to reach there), and it’s shown how heavily Lauren relies on her. This is seen, most of all, when she makes comparisons to Beowulf & Dorian Gray when the excerpt from the Picture of Dorian Gray scrolls down. The excerpt itself is perfectly chosen, especially due to how it parallels with Lynn’s beauty ruining her personality:
Laura even brings up a few of Danny Wagner’s own flaws when she talks about how “Danny would have asked a tree knot out if he could get some” – and it shows that Laura can cut through the melodramatics of both Lauren and Lynn and takes a very balanced view. She even comedically remarks: “I swear, things on my block were never this exciting”.
If we take into account the fact that Danny Wagner might be the meta-fictive personality who is writing this play, this shows the type of self-criticism that a self-aware artist can really pull off. This penetrates most deeply in the ‘over-voice’ he creates with Holy Sonnet 30, as seen over here:
Take note of all the character traits that I’ve listed above. Just think about how these beautiful lines could potentially play off & create parallaxes with the rest of the play. How, inclusion of these intertextual beats can raise the action within the play to a higher sphere & show things that the characters cannot see, but the audience can. Something that many playwrights (or creators in every medium) can learn from & utilize.
So far, I’ve only talked about The Thing After Death. But let me make it clear that with the plays Dan has been releasing so far (about 1 a week) – he has cemented himself as a playwright far above everyone else. He has created some of the most coherent and enduring characters to ever grace the stage (hopefully… one day…).
With this play (though with all other plays as well), I feel that Dan also proves that the job of Art isn’t just to pose questions, but to provide answers to the grand questions as well. These answers require a certain level of perception & willingness to open one’s horizons to perceive – but they are there within the work itself. Hopefully, this analysis has contributed to getting people to seek out those answers – and support the artists who can communicate them.