It’s not Christopher Shinn’s fault that living in the Worst Time Line Ever has made the hot-button issues in his 2008 play Now or Later feel more like mild provocations. When presidential tweets contain more fodder for outrage every day, a story about the closeted college-age son of a presumptive Democratic president-elect attending a party dressed as the Prophet Muhammad to prove a point about free speech on campus is just sort of, well, quaint.
Shinn, who tackled homophobia on campus in 2013’s Teddy Ferrara at the Goodman, mostly avoids easy dialectics in his story, and Bradley Hamilton’s staging for Intrinsic Theatre also keeps the self-righteous posturing to a minimum. But there is a distinct lack of urgency on both the page and the stage. The story unfolds in real time on Election Night in the hotel room of John (Joe Sharkey) as his father’s aides and his mother, Jessica (Debra Rodkin), try to persuade him to issue an apology for photos from the party that have just gone viral. His friend, Matt (Kyle Patrick), offers moral support and a philosophical sounding board.
There’s no serious question about the party pictures derailing the campaign of John Sr. (Scott Olson). The fear is that it will give the media and the GOP-majority Congress an excuse to derail his agenda. (I know—adorable, right?) It’s the family conflicts that work best here, as when Olson’s politico essentially gets his son to admit that going to the party was more about needling annoying classmates (and pissing off his dad) than making a political pronouncement. But for the most part, though the play contains potent ideas about how being in politics renders everyone nervous about public perceptions (unless you’re Donald Trump), the execution is too muted to pack an equivalent emotional punch. v