The show: Christopher Shinn's "Now of Later" by the Huntington Stage Company, at Wimberly Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts.
Traveling around a bit, no? Connecticut connections pulled me to Beantown for the U.S. premiere of a play by Hartford-born, Wethersfield-raised Shinn, and directed by Michael Wilson, former artistic head of Hartford Stage, who has helmed several of the writer’s plays off-Broadway.
I’ve followed Shinn’s career for years, shortly after his first Hartford-set play “Four” premiered at London’s Royal Cort Theatre when he was in his early 20s. Besides, don’t we expect out-of-staters to travel to our leading theaters when there’s something special on Connecticut stages to prompt a drive?
This work is also special because it had its world premiere in 2008 in London to terrific reviews. Don’t you want to know what the fuss is all about surrounding a politically charged play from one of our most thought-provoking playwrights?
Why has it taken so long to get to the U.S.?: I’m sure many are thinking the same thing. Perhaps it’s because of the mistaken belief that since the play is set on the eve of a presidential election it is only of quadrennial interest.
And is it?: Smart writing, acting and staging is for any time. And there’s more at stake here than who wins in the end. It’s also a riveting family play.
What’s it about?: As election results starting rolling in, a youtube video goes viral about a candidate’s Ivy League son dressing up at a drunken college sex party as prophet Muhammad with a pal dressed up as an American evangelist. There’s pressure by the campaign for an apology to contain what will be the political and life-and-death fall-out from the religious offenses. But the son has freedom of speech, private autonomy and other issues of his own that are vital to him, too. The play is essentially that articulated battle.
Absorbing drama builds as time ticks away and a line of people enter the son's hotel room to convince him to apologize: a campaign aide, his mother, a friendly political strategist and, climactically, his father.
It’s a tightly-crafted, real-time, issue-filled drama with (almost) every psychologically-complex character richly drawn and portrayed. In that way it reminded me of an Ibsen play.
That’s a bit of a leap: Not really when you think about how larger abstract issues of sex, gender, politics and social issues are brought down into the world of the family unit in a contained and tension-filled narrative.
And the performances?: Grant MacDermott plays the smart, gay, argumentative son, John Jr., with a troubled past convincingly, able to make us believe in his fierce intelligence and determination as well as his self-deception and vulnerability. Tom Nelis is also terrific as the right-shifting presidential candidate who is also a father struggling with his private and public selves.
Alexandra Neil is very good as the woman who shape shifts between the role of candidate's wife and concerned mother. Michael Goldsmith as John Jr.'s pal is . Ryan King (so fine in "Dying City" at Hartford Stage) and Adriane Lexox are solid as campaign operatives.
Wilson impressively allows the play's silences, spaces and subtlest of gestures deepen Shinn's dramatic -- and often clever -- dialogue. (There characters are, after all, prone to debate.)
Who will like it? Those who like stimulating and moving drama surrounding political, religious and social issues.
Who won’t?: Those who want simple answers to complex moral issues.
For the kids?: If you’ve got smart teenagers, they’ll connect with many of the issues in which the protagonist grapples, not the least of which is about identity. Besides, they might learn something about the perils of social media postings.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: All politics are personal in crackling good play that challenges both sides of the aisle claiming the real truth. No fact checkers needed. See it now.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: I’m surprised and somewhat disappointed at the lack of politically-themed works around this presidential election cycle. Have not-for-profits retreated in its mission for fear of offending some funders? Here in Connecticut, I’m looking forward to what David Adjmi has to say in the world premiere co-production of “Marie Antoinette” at Yale Rep. I’m seeing it this Thursday night.
The Basics: The show continues through Nov. 10. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes, no intermission. Information: 617-266-0800 and www.huntingtontheatre.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun