- Connecticut Critic
In the aftermath of a contentious election year, Square One Theatre opens its season with a political play, “Now or Later” by Christopher Shinn. The show takes place on election eve, when the son of the winning presidential candidate is dealing with the consequences of his own rash and immature political outburst. Shinn does not take sides but puts forth a convincing political discourse on the power and ramifications of free speech, intertwined with the brash, unflinching certainty of youth clashing with the tempered and trepidacious tread of a seasoned political pro. Ultimately, it all boils down to a generational gap and the compromises it takes to preserve a family in the glaring light and transparency of our modern age.
Under the direction of Tom Holehan, the cast does a fine job of embodying the complex characters of the presidential inner circle. Christopher Finch plays the formerly suicidal gay son John, who, in his dogmatic and youthful insistence on his right to free speech, decides to irreverently dress up as the Prophet Muhammad and attend a drunken campus naked party. His friend Matt, played by Patrick Kelly, accompanies John dressed as a religious right bigot named Pastor Bob. As the party gets out of hand, they are of course captured on video that goes viral. Cue the disaster music for John’s father’s presidential campaign, and send in the surrogates to convince the wayward son to issue an apology.
The surrogates are played by Jennifer Ju as Jessica and Joseph Maker as Marc. They are the good cop/bad cop team, trying to order, intimidate, and cajole John into seeing the error of his ways. Their arguments are peppered with long sermons about individual rights vs. empathy, compassion and respect for other cultures, but John remains unswayed, rationalizing that he was just doing what college students do; eventually it will all just blow over. The script Shinn provides for these arguments is complex and I applaud the cast for delivering their lines with only a few stumbles.
Two actors who raise the bar on this production are Peggy Nelson and Pat Leo, who play Jessica and John, Sr., mother and father of the headstrong John. Ms. Nelson is very convincing as the parent in the middle, gingerly trying to understand her son, tiptoeing around his troubled past and his sexual orientation all the while trying to bridge the gap between father and son.
Mr. Leo is perfect as the father who is obviously distraught over his son’s previous suicide attempt, is painfully aware of John’s fragility, and at the same time appreciative of the precariousness of his situation as a President Elect whose son has shamefully insulted the Muslim world. Both father and son stubbornly dig in their heels on the subject of John’s apology and almost come to blows. In the space of their argument, Mr. Leo clearly conveys John Sr.’s frustration that his son will not see or acknowledge the big picture of what he has done and at the same time achingly portrays a man who has an overwhelming love and concern for his son’s well being. This scene where father and son confront each other transcends politics and speaks to the heart of what it means to be a parent faced with the actions of a petulant child who will not admit that he has done wrong, but who feels powerless to admonish that child for fear of damaging an already delicate psyche.
For the most part, the production staff for “Now or Later” is to be congratulated. Lighting was done by Clifford Fava, with sound by Don Henault. Costumes were coordinated by Kerry Lampert and Gaetana Grinder. My one complaint is that the set design by Greg Fairbend and Robert Mastroni was a little disappointing. While Square One does a great job utilizing the small stage and space for the show, the set did not reflect a posh hotel room where I’d imagine a future President and his family would stay in to wait out results.
“Now or Later” is run without an intermission and runs through November 20th. Visit squareonetheatre.com for tickets.