If you don’t mind your plays on the silly side, but can also make room in your heart for a genuinely moving exploration of love, loss, and the bittersweet sacrifices that shape our lives, Actor’s Playhouse’s winning production of Sean Grennan’s Now And Then may be just what the doctor ordered.
This seriocomic play first introduces us to Jamie and Abby, a young, down on their luck every-couple who are very much in love and working their tails off to make ends meet, him behind the counter of the casual Irish bar where the play takes place and her while waiting tables at a nearby IHOP. Both also have big dreams for their future—his musical, hers literary—and both are shaken to the core by the arrival of an older stranger, who is identified in the playbill only as “Man.”
Mallory Newbrough and Stephen Trovillion in “Now and Then” at Actors’ Playhouse. [Photo Credit: Alberto Romeu]
As Abby and Jamie will soon learn, this Man is willing to go to extreme lengths to deliver them a message that threatens each’s conception of themselves as well as their hopes for a shared future. He, it seems, is looking to make amends for a mistake he made in his own youth by trying to dissuade Abby and Jamie from making what he views as a similarly misguided decision. Later the arrival of an equally mysterious “Woman,” who offers an opposing perspective only complicates matters even further.
Unfortunately, that’s about as specific as I can get about the unexpected relationship between the show’s two couples, but I will say that I actually went in already knowing the show’s biggest “twist” due to a conversation I’d had beforehand with a friend who was in the know. However, I found that that knowledge ultimately did little to dampen my enjoyment of what turned out to be an admirably well-constructed story rather than one that hinged on a singular shock value reveal.
Though the specific circumstances that allow the two couple’s fates to intersect may be outlandish ones, the questions that the play’s central device unearths for them and the gravity of their implications are in fact fairly universal quandaries. For instance: Which is more important to you—achieving professional or artistic success or finding happiness in your domestic life? How might you begin to cope with your regret after you realize that some of your mistakes are irreversible while your time on earth remains finite? Why do some of us fall so deeply in love with people we suspect will never satisfy us, or who we fear we are consummately wrong for? And, if you thought the only way to give the person you loved a better life was to let them live it without you—would you have the nerve to let yourself let go?
Laura Turnbull, Kristian Bikic, Mallory Newbrough and Stephen Trovillion in “Now and Then” at Actors’ Playhouse. [Photo Credit: Alberto Romeu]
The resulting play is thus one that appeals to the common denominator in just about the best way possible, simple enough to allow us to relate to the characters as we reflect on our own answers to these ever-pressing questions and the relationships that loom large in our own presents and pasts. While folks of a certain age in the audience will likely relate to the more seasoned Man and Woman, anyone whose biggest decisions still lie ahead are likely to find themselves engrossed in the fates of Abby and Jamie as their relationships’ stakes are suddenly magnified by the urgency of the Man’s request.
The play’s setup also allows for quite a few creative and clever jokes, as does the plentiful servings of conveniently accessible liquor the characters indulge in as they cope with the arrival of the implausible and try to get to the bottom of their strange scenario. That each of the show’s two acts comes in under an hour adds to the easy-to-swallow nature of it all, as does excellent direction by David Arisco and a charismatic, easy-to-watch cast.
Actors Stephen Trovillion, Laura Turnbull, Mallory Newbrough and Kristian Bikic excel at handling both the bizarre relationship between their characters and the unique emotional complexity their story demands. If anything, Bikic sometimes seems to be a weak link in seeming more performative and less in-the-moment than the others, but this ultimately does little to detract from the overall cast dynamic and the play’s overall effect.