On its surface, Now or Later is a shiny political object. But, at least in this interpretation, the play doesn’t make sense.
This mounting from Fighting Chance Productions is beyond timely. The story takes place on the eve of an American presidential election. We’re in John’s hotel room. He’s the son of the Democratic president-elect and John Sr.’s staff is desperately trying to put out a political fire. John started it. On the Internet, fuzzy pictures have surfaced of John and his friend Matt at a party at their Ivy League university. John is dressed as Mohammed and Matt as a popular evangelical Christian preacher named Pastor Bob. The staff members and John’s parents all want John to issue an apology, but he refuses, insisting that doing so would restrict his freedom of expression.
John explains that he threw the costume together, making a turban out of a couple of pillows, because he wanted to protest the stance taken by self-identified progressive students. In his view, those students blindly defend Islam and criticize the United States while engaging in libertine activities—including the “naked party” John wore his costume to—that would have fundamentalist Muslims hauling out their jail keys. Besides, John argues, although his father might be a politician, he’s not; he’s a private citizen.
But, seriously John, what the fuck? As his father says to him late in the play, “Haven’t you noticed that you’re the son of the president-elect of the United States? Has this not occurred to you?”
Playwright Christopher Shinn justifies John’s obstinacy and his parents’ indulgence of it by giving John a history of mental instability. A few years earlier, John tried to kill himself by rolling his jeep and, in the ensuing therapy, John Sr. agreed not to impose his will on his child. As if. To me at least, John’s nuttiness feels like a weak device that allows for a whole lot of theoretical discussion about topics that have become increasingly familiar since Now or Later premiered in London in 2008: liberalism, political compromise, the difficulties of democracies dealing with theocracies. And Shinn doesn’t stop there. John is gay, so we get the gay marriage debate. And John’s boyfriend has dumped him, so we plunge into arguments about monogamy and open relationships. In the end, Now or Later sometimes feels like an unfocused undergraduate seminar. And Shinn packs all of this into 80 minutes, which makes for a lot of chatter.
To be blunt, Jake Sheardown isn’t up to the difficult task of playing John. You’d have to be a miracle worker to make John sympathetic—Eddie Redmayne played the part in London—and Sheardown is simply too inexperienced: his delivery is declamatory and too often it feels like he’s reaching for emotional effects.
There is solid work elsewhere, however. Justin Anthony is alert and subtly responsive as John’s friend Matt. Nicole G. Leier is sharply intelligent and witty as a staffer named Tracy. And Brian Hinson brings the smoothness of a politician and the exasperation of a father to the role of John Sr.
The unfolding story might be more interesting if the interpretation raised more questions about the degree to which the people who are supposedly helping John are really manipulating him, but this production doesn’t really go there.
Alison Walker’s set has problems and director Ryan Mooney’s use of it is a mess. Walker provides a small platform with some hotel furniture on it. Fair enough. But the platform is so tiny that, to get around the furniture, the actors are forever bouncing on and off it as if they’re in a step class. The audience sits on three sides of the platform and Mooney has the performers wander deep into the aisles. Too often, these trips feel unmotivated and self-consciously symbolic.
The subjects under discussion in Now or Later are interesting and there are some skilled performances but, for me, the centre doesn’t hold.