november 2016 | Volume 149
Fighting Chance Productions specializes in musicals, but every so often they do a straight play. This one couldn’t be timelier. Now or Later, directed by the company’s artistic director Ryan Mooney, dramatizes fictional US election eve 2008 in the hotel headquarters of the winning Democratic presidential candidate. At the same time as the results are being announced, an online video of the President-elect’s son, a student at an Ivy League college, is making the rounds: he’s dressed as Mohammed at a party, pretending to go down on a dildo.
This 65-minute one act by American playwright Christopher Shinn consists of the son, John (Jake Sheardown), explaining his motivations, arguing with his friend (Justin Anthony), a couple of his father’s operatives (Winson Won, Nicole G. Leier) and his mother (Paula Spurr) about whether he should make a public apology, and finally being confronted by his father, John Sr. (Brian Hinson).
John is gay and has serious daddy issues, especially around his father’s political pragmatism in refusing to support gay marriage (“the country isn’t quite there yet—sometimes you’ve got to lead from behind”). But that’s only the tip of his psychological iceberg. He was suicidal in the past, leading to a series of quasi-legal agreements with his parents, and his boyfriend has recently left him.
What’s really clear is how difficult it must be to grow up the child of career politicians. “Everything they do is strategic,” he remarks scathingly of his parents. And his resistance to their pleas to publicly repent his anti-Muslim behaviour has much to do with that history. When he smugly tells his father, “I don’t think we should give up our values to find common ground,” you have to wonder how much it’s really about values and how much he’s trying to escape his father’s orbit and maybe damage dad’s political career.
Shinn does give John lots of opportunity to justify his action. John explains how hypocritical his fellow students are about their political correctness, leading him to want to make that point, in costume, at his classmate’s party. He’s also adamant that the homophobia and misogyny of Islamic fundamentalist culture be confronted, and he insists he shouldn’t have to apologize for pointing that out in a way that only illustrates the superiority of American culture’s freedom of expression.
Depending on your perspective and politics (and probably age), John’s moral absolutism is at least as infuriating as the other characters’ pragmatism. He also seems strangely naïve about the power of the Internet and social media (even for 2008). Every time someone tells him his video is going viral, people are rioting in Pakistan, he denies that a local college prank could possibly have any significant effect.
The ambiguity about which side is right is heavily coloured by the acting in this production. The pragmatists profit from strong performances by Leier and Hinson especially, making the argument to recant. Sheardown, who carries almost the whole show on John’s shoulders, isn’t as crisp an actor. He sometimes wobbles in his presentation of John’s convictions, and it’s hard to know whether that’s the character or the performer.
This behind-the-scenes look at a political campaign and a political family has significant resonance with the current US election. Fingers crossed that if a kid of the winning candidate rebels this Tuesday, it’s Chelsea.
Fighting Chance is presenting a special 7 pm performance of Now or Later on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
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