BWW Review: SOONER/LATER at Atlas Performing Arts Center
Sooner/Later, written by Allyson Currin and directed by Gregg Henry, catapults the audience into the life of a single, working, middle aged mother Nora (Erica Chamblee), her charming, possessive, teen-aged daughter, Lexie (Cristina M. Ibarra), and a sarcastic and dubious suitor-turned-companion, Griff (Tony K. Nam). The performance is a comedy about love and loss, and draws us into complicated relationships that are timelessly relevant as they touch the fears, desires, and expectations that any American woman-young or seasoned, may experience in her lifetime.
The performance opens with an endearing and humorous monologue of Lexie's assessment of her mother's wants, needs, qualms, and the heart-break tied to her pursuit of happiness. Lexie introduces the theme of inseparability between mother and daughter by presenting her mother's predicament-a series of unsatisfactory dates and a hopelessly solitary future-as a math problem, one of "probability," that she must solve for her mother. She remains present throughout the performance, either playing an active role in scenes in which she engages with her mother, or as an omnipresent voice narrating her mother's life. She rarely, if at all, physically leaves the stage, a symbol of a strong force driving Nora's motives and a constant presence in Nora's life-which is a stark contrast to the suitors whom Nora encounters. Cristina's performance of Lexie is funny, captivating, and reflects the stereotypically audacious, impudent nature of young teenage girls.
The mother-daughter relationship flips as we learn more about the characters, and particularly about Nora. At times, despite her life experience and successful career, Nora turns to her daughter for counsel, for example, by asking what she ought to do when she "grows up." Similarly, the constructs of the relationship blur when Lexie expresses uncertainty about whether her mother has found the right suitor, as if it is her own decision to make. Erica's and Cristina's ardent performance make moments like these poignant and resonant. By contrast, Tony's well-placed humor lightens the intensity of these moments. Through Griff's pompous, sarcastic wit, and suggestive, albeit, cliché jokes-Tony's performance enriches the audience's sense of absurdity about the realities middle aged women often face.
However, one can't solely attribute the quality of the production to the acting and the script; the skillfully designed stage, which includes minimal props, morphs into new scenes-from a coffee shop, to a bedroom, to a stage-wide career woman's closet, to a somber beach landscape through the clever yet subtle engineering of props. This, coupled with the well strategized placement of characters on the stage, deepens the sense of distress, love, and moments of defeat.
Despite the intimacy, depth, humor, and tasteful design, relationships become confusing to follow toward the end of the play. It becomes unclear whether Lexie is Nora's daughter, or her not yet-born daughter, who exists only as a figment of Nora's desire to be loved and have family. In addition, the play concludes with an unexpected and intense plot twist which further complicates the nature of the relationships we witness, is drawn out, and is neither anticipated nor convincing.
Nevertheless, the performance is captivating, the themes clever and compelling, and the plot, at times, suspenseful. Sooner/Later is enjoyable for anyone who can identify with a mother, daughter, or confused suitor. I recommend anyone seeking an intimate narrative and good laugh purchase their tickets sooner rather than later.
This production of the Mosaic Theater Company of DC and the Trish Vradenburg Play Commission Program is performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Sprenger Theatre until June 16, 2019.
Tickets can be purchased here: https://www.mosaictheater.org/sooner-later