Friday, 28 October 2016

Now or Later points to poignant political issues
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : If noted US feminist Carol Hanisch was right in her February, 1969 essay noting "the personal is political", surely its obverse "the political is personal" is equally true. Such is the core of Christopher Shinn's 2008 potboiler Now or Later : on Election Night in America the son of the USA President-elect shows up in a fuzzy YouTube squib at a recent college naked party. Big deal. Except he's dressed up as Muhammed. With his dildo-packing buddy aping preacher man Pastor Bob -- a character straight out of Deliverance.

Set in the President-elect's hotel, tension mounts exponentially. Surely son must issue an apology for his giddy improvisational stunt that threatens to undermine Dad's 1st 100 Days if not outright scuttle his Presidency altogether. Will it be world Islam that is most offended -- riots are reported in Pakistan -- or Christianity's right-wing vicious evangelicals?

But free speech is free speech is free speech, son argues. Freedom of religion presupposes, in his mind, freedom from religion, too. In a clash between such alleged rights only one of these stated freedoms can prevail. For 85 minutes this dramatic pressure cooker builds up an explosive head of steam before the ultimate showdown. [What follows is based on the show's first Preview Oct. 28th before its opening on November 2nd.]

How it's all put together :  To complicate matters, son John (Jake Sheardown) is gay who as a teen attempted suicide and who for some time thereafter -- with Dad alongside as a fellow traveler -- underwent invasive psychotherapy. His bosom buddy Matt (Justin Anthony) tries to defend their frat-boy shenanigans as just that. Bud-fueled silliness. But senior campaign manager Marc (Winson Won) is having none of it. Mom Jessica (Paula Spurr) is torn between her maternal instincts to protect her cub. But she is also the First Lady-in-waiting and knows she has to stand by her man John, Sr (Brian Hinson) who has a typically Freudian relationship with his son.

That the real-time events were first staged on the eve of Barack Obama's election in 2008 is a dramatic coincidence. Because the show with its controversial thematic content found itself opening at the Royal Court in London due to luke-cool USA reception. It wasn't repatriated to the US until 2012. But as Election 2016 demonstrates so profoundly, personal foibles and transgressions can wreak havoc for candidates. 

(Ironically, of course. In Shinn's script the fear of John, Sr. is that Junior will be perceived as an Islamophobe. In USA today the Elephant candidate openly phobes and froths away against Muslims. But point well-taken : a one-off use of the 5-letter gutterance for vagina may prove the man's undoing. His dreams of making 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a reality show mock-up are fading fast.)

What the show brings to the stage : The underlying debate Shinn's script produces is a wholly worthy one. If tolerance has for centuries been the watchword of Western democratic liberalism, then when can another's intolerance squash one's personal freedom? What roles do demands for "trigger word warnings" and "safe spaces" play at the heart of such a debate? 

In Shinn's play, after all, Junior's protest was aimed at his Ivy League classmates of Muslim persuasion. After some Charlie Hebdo-type posters mocking Muhammed popped up across campus, they advocated the university alter its liberal free speech policies. This to be done out of "respect" for their religious traditions. It is not at all certain that these existential threads -- the freedoms of free speech and religion -- can be woven together. Just like the French Revolution’s call for “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Parse those words and at heart is a farrago of idealistic but irreconcilable absolutes. 

Ideas probed by Christopher Shinn : In the dictionary, hypocrisy falls neatly between cynicism and principle. Where is the line drawn? Who draws the line?

In the fraught world we live in, the "oppressed" insist it's their right to hold the stick and make the line in the sand. The dramatic tension of Christopher Shinn's cleverly dynamic script lies here. Is President-elect Dad the bigger hypocrite than son John? Junior professes zero tolerance for the cultural jihadists in society who despise all "other". Zero tolerance for intolerance. Is he morally no better than them? He than his Dad who cozied up to Pastor Bob but fears offending Muslims, too. Who knows? How to tell?

Acting pin-spots :  As President-elect / Dad, Brian Hinson turns in the grittiest and punchiest performance of the night. A knock-off Antony Holland -- "Family matters!" -- Hinson reflects the awful crucible created when family and politics are ignited and fused  together, particularly on an international stage.

Opposite, Jake Sheardon as Junior rhymes off Shinn's stinging sarcasms about The System and TPTB (the powers that be) with quiet insistent force most of the night. Miffed and naively bemused most of the time, he sheds tears when the hoped-for phone call from ex-lover Robbie is not Robbie at all : a poignant scene that needed to be twice as long, twice as powerful and devastating in its delivery.

Fact is, sometimes in plays the script betters the actors. Other times the actors better the script. Christopher Shinn's script is not as richly sardonic as vintage Mamet, but quite close at times. And the cast will grow into it with quicker delivery and more exuberant body language / stage business as the run matures no doubt.

Who gonna like : While on this 1st Preview evening the timing and cadence were quite uneven, the Shinn dialogue is a robust jousting and clanging of moral swords and lances that is utterly timely. A rich set-up for measuring the groundswell of political anger below the 49th. It threatens to crush underfoot our innocent and charming and sentimental views of what democracy should look like.

Appropriate catch here: After the November 8 performance, PAL will throw up Election Night big-screens to determine how closely Christopher Shinn's fiction matches reality or vice-versa. Or both.

Particulars :  Presented by Fighting Chance Productions. At the PAL stage, Cardero @ Georgia. Through Sunday, November 13th. Show and season info @ Fighting Chance Productions

Production team : Director Ryan Mooney.  Assistant Director Allyson Fournier.  Costume Designer Nazanin Shoja.  Set Designer Alison Walker.  Lighting Designer Andrew Chu.  Stage Manager Amber Scott. 

Performers :  Justin Anthony (Matt).  Brian Hinson (John, Sr.).  Nicole G. Leier (Tracy).  Jake Sheardown (John).  Paula Spurr (Jessica).  Winston Won (Marc).


No comments:

Post a Comment