A man walks into a bar and – OK, we’d stop there if we had sworn to keep this particular review 100% spoiler-free.
But Sean Grennan’s comedy-drama (or “drama,” as director David Arisco describes it) is neither a joke nor a shaggy dog story. Even if you guess what’s happening within minutes of the Actors’ Playhouse’s new production of “Now and Then” (and plenty of people will), Grennan’s play will keep you hooked from start to finish.
Something about Grennan’s work speaks to Arisco, the company’s artistic director for nearly all of Actors’ Playhouse’s 35 years of business. “Now and Then,” which premiered in 2018, is Grennan’s fifth show presented by Actors (“Married Alive!”, “Another Night Before Christmas,” “Making God Laugh” and “The Tin Woman” were the others. ). This one, with its neatly layered “surprises,” is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.
Trying to share much of the story while avoiding spoilers is pretty much futile, so we’ll stick to the setup.
The aforementioned man (Stephen Trovillion) walks into Mulligan’s Irish bar in Chicago in 1981. Bartender Jamie (Kristian Bikic) begins his nightly closing ritual while waiting for his girlfriend Abby (Mallory Newbrough), a waitress at IHOP down the block. The man (that’s how he’s identified in the program) is in a hurry, desperate for a drink and determined, so Jamie pours a scotch and soda with a splash – at the going rate of $1.25 .
Once Abby arrives, the Man makes the couple a strange and growing offer that ends like this: if they sit with him for an hour, talking and drinking, he’ll pay them $1,000 each.
They bite. Jamie saved up to take a break from the bar so he could focus on his career as a great jazz pianist. Abby wants to go back to college to study literature and writing. The Man’s money will speed up the process for both of them, so Jamie prepares a Tanqueray and a tonic for Abby and a Rusty Nail for himself, then the Man launches into his storytelling, questions and agenda, sometimes with the help of a few rounds of Truth or Dare. The very late arrival of a character called Woman (Laura Turnbull) adds more complexity and emotion.
As the young couple looks to the future and the elder contemplates the past, Grennan explores the countless decisions, big and small, that shape the course of a lifetime. Hopes, regrets, dreams, loss and love in its many manifestations all come into play, along with that big and inevitable question: What if I choose this path over that?
Arisco and his tight company of sublimely talented actors create captivating moment after moment, including masterfully performed monologues.
Bikic’s Jamie knows what he wants but isn’t sure what he doesn’t want yet. Abby from Newbrough is looking for a path to a bigger picture. Turnbull, intense and imposing, reminds us why she is considered one of the best actresses in the region. The versatile Trovillion, back in South Florida after 16 seasons with the City Theater’s Summer Shorts festival and retiring from his college teaching job in Wisconsin, is all in ‘Now and Then’ – funny , exasperating, heartbreaking.
With the play playing in the smaller Balcony Theater upstairs at the Miracle Theatre, set designer Gene Seyffer and set designer/set designer Jodi Dellaventura give the cast a compact but appropriate Irish bar, its green-hued interior just waiting to be seen. rush to St. Patrick’s Day revelers, but hope Jamie can fix the jukebox before then.
Eric Nelson has designed lighting that adapts to the changing moods of the room – mysterious, unforgiving, dreamy. Alex Bonilla’s sound includes a snippet of Frank Sinatra singing “I’ve Got a Crush on You” by George and Ira Gershwin, Jamie and the Man playing the piano, and noise from the period Asteroids arcade game. Costume designer Ellis Tillman’s sharp work reflects the era, the characters’ tastes (Jamie is a fast dresser) and their financial circumstances.
“Now and Then” isn’t a long play — less than two hours including intermission — and isn’t likely to change your outlook on life. You’ll feel it, however, especially in its final moments – a transporting stage image involving all four characters, with Trovillion singing the same tune as Ol’ Blue Eyes.
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If you are going to
WHAT: “Now and Then” by Sean Grennan
WHERE: Actors Playhouse in the Balcony Theater at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday to September 11
COST: $40 to $90 (seniors 65 and over receive a 10% discount on weekdays only; students 25 and under with a valid student ID pay $15 for an available emergency ticket 15 minutes before a performance on weekdays. Lunch break special offers half-price tickets between 12:00 p.m. and 2 p.m. from 12:00 p.m. to same-day performances on weekdays; Tix @ 6 offers half-price tickets in the evenings weekdays between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., both requiring in-person purchase at the box office, subject to availability)
INFORMATION: 305-444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org