Now or Later
Written by Christopher Shinn, Directed by Michael Wilson; Scenic Design, Jeff Cowie; Costume Design, David C. Woolard; Lighting Design, Russell H. Champa; Sound Design, David Remedios; Casting, Alaine Alldaffer; Production Stage Manager, Carola Morrone LaCoste; Stage Manager, Candice D. Mongellow
CAST (in order of appearance): Grant MacDermott (John, Jr.), Michael Goldsmith (Matt), Ryan King (Marc), Alexandra Neil (Jessica), Adriane Lenox (Tracy), Tom Nelis (John, Sr.)
Performances through November 10 by Huntington Theatre Company at Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-266-0800 or www.huntingtontheatre.org
Caught up as we are in the remaining weeks of this presidential election campaign, battered by the nonstop bombardment of ever nastier partisan messages, our vision is focused on the light at the end of the tunnel which shall offer salvation or damnation, depending on your point of view. In that mind set, it is difficult to shift gears and look back to the 2008 quadrennial event, to try to remember where we were as a nation in cultural terms. Playwright Christopher Shinn rewinds the clock in his timely political drama Now or Later (American premiere by Huntington Theatre Company) to explore the most important American principle – freedom of expression – by testing its boundaries in the face of Islamic protest and international political realities.
The debate that plays out in this polemic is whether or not freedom of expression has boundaries (other than the well-known prohibition against yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater). If it collides with another person's freedom of religion, which is the prevailing "right?" In Shinn's script, the stakes are both personal and political as the setting is a hotel room on election night while the state by state results are announced. The gay son of the soon-to-be president-elect is in the eye of a developing firestorm and struggling to maintain his independence against mounting pressure to do as he's told.
John, Jr.'s (Grant MacDermott) youthful indiscretion, or "Ivy League kerfuffle" as written, involved his attending a party with his friend Matt (Michael Goldsmith) dressed as the prophet Muhammed and a fundamentalist Christian, Pastor Bob, respectively. On this night, photos from the party are posted on the Internet and the campaign fears that they will go viral and trigger an international crisis. Art imitates life here as the situation is reminiscent of embarrassing photos of Britain's Prince Harry popping up online, lending credibility to the premise. A pair of campaign staffers (Ryan King, Adriane Lenox) and John's mother (Alexandra Neil) make forays to his room to try to convince him to apologize, gradually leading him to understand that it is more of a big deal than he has been willing to acknowledge.
The back story involves John, Jr.'s difficult history within the family, stemming from his belief that even his birth was "strategic" in the scheme of his father's political career. As a teen, he had psychological issues, including an implied suicide attempt, and spent a lot of time in therapy to work things through with John, Sr. Although he won some important concessions as a result of their work with Dr. Green, the young man can see the old handwriting on the wall reappearing now that the stakes are at their highest point and he fears being steamrolled for the good of the new administration.