It is odd that Christopher Shinn’s Now or Later is just making its West Coast premiere at Diversionary Theatre. This 2007 work seems so very up-to-the-minute that “world premiere” could have been more like it.
In any case, despite its focus on what have proved to be enduring issues, both political and academic, the material feels fresh as presented by director Matt M. Morrow and his cast.
John (J. Tyler Jones) is the son of the man who is soon to become the 2008 U. S. President-Elect (understand, of course, that the story is fictional). A whip-smart Harvard undergraduate, John has keen awareness of both national political issues and the kinds of campus debates that are energizing his classmates. John is also gay and in the closet voluntarily while his father (Eddie Yaroch) runs for president. It turns out that the nature of his volunteerism comes from an agreement that a therapist brokered with his parents following a crisis the family experienced while John was in high school. To their credit, both his father and mother (Lisel Gorell Getz) have lived up to their end of the bargain, and John wants to live up to his end as well.
Still, he’s a typical undergraduate, in that he holds strong beliefs and feels deeply. He decides that a classmate is being hypocritical and so arranges with his friend, Matt (Joshua Jones) to attend a party thrown by the classmate dressed as religious fundamentalists, Matt as a well-known Christian fundamentalist, and John as a Muslim fundamentalist who might well be taken for the prophet, Muhammad. And, the Muslim world has been in an uproar about depiction of the prophet in any form.
Of course, someone at the party took grainy video and now has announced plans to leak it in the wake of the presidential vote. The campaign wants to forestall trouble by issuing a preemptive apology in John’s name. John, on the other hand, feels as though he has done nothing to apologize for – and, the agreement with his parents states that they will not act on his behalf without his consent.
[John is] a typical undergraduate, in that he holds strong beliefs and feels deeply…
So, John and Matt are holed up in a hotel room overlooking the square where his father will accept victory at the appropriate time. And, a series of people from “upstairs” parade in to persuade John to allow the apology to go out. These include not only both parents, but a couple of campaign officials, the ham-handed Marc (Matt Thompson) and the hip-slick-and-cool Tracy (Whitney Brianna Thomas).
Under Mr. Morrow’s tutelage, these visits play themselves out with an obvious concern for individual relationship dynamics. Both of the young men in particular have developed ways of relaxing into their characterizations, something that young actors, in my experience, find difficult to do. Ms. Thomas also fares well, particularly because her character is well-liked by John – and also, because she gets to dispense some wisdom that John hadn’t previously considered.
The dynamics with the parents are supposed to be more strained, and they are., to the point where these scenes weren’t as effective on opening night. It’s a complex play, though, and I imagine that these dynamics will continue to evolve.
The production is strong, particularly due to Sean Fanning’s set design, which fits Diversionary’s stage layout like a glove (Mr. Fanning is two for two this month – his set for Moxie’s brownsville song (b-side for tray) is terrific as well). Curtis Mueller’s lighting design captures the variety of effects the play requires, while Shirley Pierson’s costumes are spot-on. Blair Nelson’s sound design captures the excitement of a presidential election night.
Even though Now or Later is set in 2008, its central debates are mostly still going on. And, after being bombarded with the angry and sometimes empty rhetoric of the 2016 campaign, it is almost a relief to escape to the theatre and hear important questions affecting the U. S. debated with both substance and skill.