Queering history is the theme of Time Is on Our Side by R. Eric Thomas, now at About Face Theatre. It’s the story of podcast creators Annie and Curtis; their main interest is local history. They’d love to get on NPR but right now their podcast is coming to you from South Philly.
Annie (Maggie Scrantom) has a long family history in Philadelphia and in the house that’s been in her family for generations. She inherited her father’s journals (he was a city activist and politician) and now she finds her mother’s secret diary. It must be secret, right? Otherwise why would it be hidden in a compartment in an antique music box that Annie also inherited?
Curtis (Rasheed Hall) is interested in Annie’s family history as well as in learning about the long dark history of the gay movement. Conflict arises between the two friends and colleagues because Annie feels her family history is hers and it’s private, while Curtis feels it’s an important part of the thread of their lives. Curtis is in a committed relationship and married to Will (we never meet him). Annie’s ex is Fatimah, who has NPR connections; she’s now spending time with her girlfriend, Claudia (an effervescent Riley Mondragon).
Time Is on Our Side, directed by Megan Carney, is a warm, funny dive into queer history and other civil rights events—the Underground Railroad, the AIDS quilt, the Stonewall riots and Rosa Parks—told by activists of two generations. It’s kind of drive-by history, without much depth on any point. Carney’s cast of four talented actors creates the mood in this Midwest premiere at Theater Wit.
The podcast that Annie and Curtis create (in a studio set up in Annie’s house) is about local history. They chat about Philly history live every week and when Annie’s mother’s diary turns up, the story and the podcast take a new direction. Curtis’ research shines a light on gay history in Philadelphia. (Harking back to the dark ages of the 1960s and ‘70s made some of us feel really old.) And eventually we learn a great deal about Annie’s family.
Both Curtis and Annie are warmly performed by Scrantom and Hall. But it’s the two other actors, Mondragon and Esteban Andres Cruz, who take the play to a satisfying level of passion and delight in history. Both play several characters of today and yesterday and each one is done with sensitivity and humor.
Time Is on Our Side is performed on a two-level set with so many doors (a dozen by my count) that I feared we might be in for a farce. But no. Jose Manuel Diaz’ set design is colorful and flexible, allowing for many types of real and shadowy entrances and exits. Lighting is by Claire Sangster and sound design by Christopher Kriz. Robert S. Kuhn created the costuming.
Playwright Thomas is also the long-running host of The Moth in Philadelphia. He writes a daily humor column for elle.com in which he “reads” the news. Time Is on Our Side was first produced by Simpatico Theatre Project, Philadelphia, in June 2016.
Time Is on Our Side by About Face Theatre continues at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, through April 7. See it Wednesday-Sunday for tickets priced $20-$38.