You know that feeling when you go see a show, and you swear the playwright’s name sounds familiar, but you read their bio and don’t recognize any of the work listed, and then as soon as the lights go out, you realize: he was on the special end-of-the-year wrap-up episode of one of your favorite podcasts, It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders?
No? Just me? All right.
Anyway, playwright and self-described “person on the Internet” R. Eric Thomas is not only cool enough to be friends with NPR’s Sam Sanders, but he also penned a play called Time Is On Our Side, currently receiving its Midwest premiere with About Face Theatre. Appropriately enough, it’s about a podcast. Specifically, a podcast about Philadelphia history run by two best friends, Annie and Curtis. When they stumble across a secret diary that belonged to Annie’s grandmother, the two must grapple with the connection between past and present queer history and between personal and collective narrative.
The premise certainly offers an interesting tension: Annie’s grandmother’s diary seems to indicate that she had a same-sex romantic relationship with a woman named Bea. Curtis thinks that unraveling this mystery could be the podcast’s big break, while Annie prefers to leave her grandmother’s private history private, not wanting to alter her mental image of her family’s deceased matriarch.
Or at least, that seems to be their motivation. If the script’s humor is its greatest strength (and it is), then its greatest weakness is the lack of clarity of the stakes—why is Annie so dead set on not letting anyone near her grandmother’s personal history? And why is Curtis willing to risk his closest friendship to unlock that history anyway? Curtis claims that Annie’s grandmother’s story is not hers but “ours,” meaning all queer people’s, but never explains why. And for the love of God, why is the character of Rene even present? He’s glib and irritating and doesn’t seem to add much to the story.
With scripts like this one that are decent—not great, not terrible—the acting can make or break the show, and here it does more of the latter. Maggie Scrantom is a low-energy Annie, which might be all right if she were bouncing off an energetic Curtis, but actor Rashaad Hall is no more engaging than his co-star. The most entertaining performance is that of Riley Mondragon, who plays the charming and hilarious voice actor Claudia, as well as Annie’s grandmother and an elderly gay man with an off-color sense of humor whom both Curtis and Annie interview.
In spite of the quality of Mondragon’s performance, there’s an odd juxtaposition between the company’s proclaimed value of offering “intergenerational” queer theatre (as mentioned multiple times by their board president in the curtain speech) and double-casting the young secondary characters as the older characters. If About Face is really trying to connect generations of queer folk, they need to put their money where their mouth is and actually hire actors from more than one generation.
Time is On Our Side is an unfortunately forgettable piece. The acting and story just aren’t weighty enough to make it memorable, and as funny as R. Eric Thomas is, it’s not enough to make for a quality show.
Location: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Regular run: Thursday, March 8 – Saturday, April 7, 2018
Curtain Times: Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.
Tickets: $20-$38. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. Tickets are currently available at the About Face Theatre website, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at Theater Wit Box Office.
Photos by Michael Brosilow.