note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
When London’s Royal Court Theatre commissioned Connecticut-born playwright Christopher Shinn to write a play in 2007, he didn’t anticipate how prophetic his 80-minute, one-act play, “Now or Later” would be, or how many nerves it would rattle.
When its debut created a sensation in London in 2008, it surprisingly took another four years to be performed here in the US. The timing of its current appearance in Boston couldn’t be better. The play focuses on the pressure of public life that world leaders’ children endure, political strategy to maintain their public image, and western separation of church and state and freedom of speech vs. fundamentalist Islamic extremists.
Perhaps the trail of silly innocent stunts by world leaders’ offspring, (witness British Prince Harry’s naked party in Las Vegas and his poor judgment wearing a Nazi armband to a costume party a few years earlier, for example), along with extreme fundamentalist Islamists’ deadly reactions to offensive cartoons and poorly-produced YouTube videos is too inflammatory. Thank goodness, that’s not the case with Huntington Theatre Company, which partnered Shinn and his longtime collaborator, Director Michael Wilson, to perform this superlative, provocative production at Boston Center for the Arts‘ Calderwood Pavilion through Nov. 10.
The cast is outstanding, and Jeff Cowie’s stylish set of a Southern hotel room in 2008 on Election Night and Russell Champa’s dramatic lighting are eye-catching.
Grant MacDermott is touching as John Jr., sensitive, gay, Ivy League son of the president-elect, who wants desperately to lead a normal life, but swears everything his parents do is politically motivated and strategic - including his birth. The emotionally fragile teen’s in a slump. His longtime (unseen) boyfriend, Robbie, doesn’t want to be monogamous anymore, and broke up with him. John Jr. also committed a politically incendiary, unacceptable social no-no at a campus party. He dressed up like Mohammed, accompanied by a costumed buddy pretending to be evangelical Christian extremist, Pastor Bob. The teen-ager insists he was “hammered” when he crashed that party, reacting to the plight of a young Islamist woman who’s freedom of speech was violated by angry Muslim reactionaries.
John Jr. questions the Islamist group’s right to squelch the young woman’s - or anyone else’s - freedom of speech. When Shinn wrote “Now or Later,” he couldn’t predict the recent incident of extremists’ shooting and lingering threat to kill a 14-year-old Pakistani girl for speaking out in defense of education for young women, so the play is even more powerful, reverberating on more levels than Shinn dreamed. Meanwhile, TV reports of John Jr.’s dad winning one state after another are promising, but photos of John Jr.’s indiscretion went viral on YouTube, stirring international rumblings.
John Sr.’s political flunkey, Marc (Ryan King) advises the teen he must make a public apology right away. “We’re planning for the worst,” Marc says.
John Jr.‘s attractive, Ann Romney look-alike mother, Jessica (Alexandra Neil), breezes in, too, superficially comforting him, while alluding to his indiscretion. Even Tracy, ( likable Adriane Lenox), John Sr.’s supportive, fun-loving aide, tells the teen this is “serious stuff” and advised him to apologize. Michael Goldsmith is effectively lowkey as John Jr.’s supportive friend and onlooker.
The play’s climax reaches a potent crescendo as John Sr. (whom Tom Nelis vividly portrays) angrily confronts his son, beating him down with emotional and physical blows.
BOX INFO: American premiere of Christopher Shinn’s one-act 80-minute political drama. presented by the Huntington Theatre Company through Nov. 10 at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Showtimes:Tuesdays, Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Oct. 28, at 7 p.m.; matinees, Oct. 27,Nov. 3,10, Oct. 28,Nov. 4, at 2 p.m. Check for related activities. Tickets start at $25; seniors, $5 discount; subscribers, BU community, $10 off; 35 years old and below, with valid ID, $25; student,military tickets, with valid ID, $15. Visit huntingtontheatre.org/news, the Box Office or its BU Theatre Box Office, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, or huntingtontheatre.org.