Review: Now Or Later: 3.5 stars
Now or Later, Oct 12-Nov 10, 2012, Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street Boston, MA.
"Now Or Later", written by Christopher Shinn and directed by Michael Wilson, is presented by the Huntington Theatre Company. The current production stars Grant MacDermont, Michael Goldsmith, Ryan King, Alexandra Neil, Adriande Lenox and Tom Neils. It plays now through Nov. 10th at the Calderwood Pavillion located at 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. The performance lasts 80 minutes with no intermission.
Around election time, it can be difficult to take political discourse seriously. Often, it seems like important issues are passed over in favor of personal attacks and agenda-rich monologuing which leads inevitably to parody. "Now Or Later" has intentions of refocusing us on some of these oft-neglected issues while simultaneously calling attention to the characters at the center of the political circus. In the current incarnation of this circus, the Democratic presidential candidate's son, John, Jr., played by the preppy Grant MacDermont and his socialist friend, Matt, the artfully sloppy Michael Goldsmith, face fallout from their decision to wear religiously controversial costumes to a libertine-themed party at their Ivy League university.
On the eve of the presidential election, pictures from this college party have emerged on a blog site, throwing the campaign aides into a frenzied attempt at damage control. It seems clear to many of the campaign aides, including Marc and Jessica, played by Ryan King and Adriane Lenox respectively, that what needs to be done is for John Jr. to submit an apology. They hope that his contrition will curtail any backlash from the Muslim or Evangelical communities. Each of these aides attempts to visit him and his friend in turn and tries to convince him to go along with the apology. Since he was making a political statement aimed at his fellow students, John Jr. does not want to comply. What ensues is a political morality play, where caricatures of the people associated with campaigns discuss what the possible limits of freedom of speech are once you become a public figure in this country.
When we first meet John Jr. and his friend Matt, they are studying in a hotel room. They are soon interrupted by a knock on the door by one of the aides, Marc. John Jr. immediately hides in the closet. In fact, this theme of hiding in closets continues throughout "Now Or Later". At first, I thought it might be some sort of comic interlude, and perhaps that was the intention, but it never quite hits the mark. John Jr. hides from Marc to avoid further discussion about his infamous Mohammad costume. Later he hides Matt in the same closet when his father comes by for a private discussion on the same topic. All of their discussions are incredibly thought-provoking, if somewhat unnatural. Throughout the play, the dialogue comes across more as independent monologues on the finer points of political science than it does of genuine conversation. Even when John Jr. brings up his failed relationship with his ex Robbie, or even his previous attempt at suicide in high school, you never get the impression that he is a real person. Rather, he and the other characters seem to be composites created for the sole purpose of a sparking a debate. For example, his friend Matt is the sort of vegetarian political science major you would expect to see around Harvard Square protesting with fellow socialists and discussing the delicate art of controlling political narrative.
The campaign aides are also exactly what you would expect to find in a Democratic convention. King's Marc is the overly idealistic aide, who seems fresh out of school and wants nothing to sully the reputation of his candidate, whatever the cost. Meanwhile, Lenox's Tracy is the sassy, African American campaign manager who has seen enough of the world to understand the value of compromise. The banalities don't end with John Jr, his friend or the campaign aides. John Jr.'s parents are the typical political power couple. His mom, Jessica, portrayed by Alexandra Neil, is a well-coiffed trophy wife in the style of Ann Romney. She seems more like a political accessory than a potentially powerful future first lady. John Sr., his dad, played by Tom Nelis, is a stern patriarch who seems almost textbook presidential. Of all of the characters, I have to commend Nelis' interpretation of John Sr. In spite of his rather limited role, he managed to have the most emotional range. When he talks with John Jr. about the reasons for his son's costume choice, he gives the impression than he has more at stake from the answers than just the potential political backlash.
The look of "Now Or Later" is dead-on perfect. I have to commend the work of scenic designer, Jeff Crowie. His set is stricken straight out of our collective unconscious of what it means to be a hotel room. When you first see it, there's no question that it could be anything else. From the curtains to the nice, but generic couch every thing about the room invokes a sense of transience. It's not a home, but you get the feeling that John Jr. and his family spend more time in places like these than they do anywhere else. David C. Woodlard's costume design and Aliane Alldaffer's casting must also be mentioned here. Their combined efforts create an ideal set of political characters, who look absolutely as you would expect them to look. If there is any imperfection here, it is that all of the characters look too much like their respective archetypes, which makes it difficult to relate to them as you might would if they were more full-bodied and genuine.
"Now Or Later" is not your typical play. As my friend mentioned, you keep waiting for something to happen, but it never does. This play does not follow the formulas set up in your usual dramatic productions. It's more cerebral and will lead to some excellent post-performance discussions. However, if you are more accustomed to theatre concerning characters and not theatre focused on socially relevant discussion, you may leave feeling like there was something lacking.
For more information see: www.huntingtontheatre.org.