Review: ‘Sooner/Later’ at Mosaic Theater Company

A deep, bittersweet dive into one woman's longing for an authentic relationship—with herself, with a man, and with a child—not necessarily in that order.

A rom-com about manhunting…at Mosaic? That’s probably not the sort of fare you’d expect from DC’s preeminent theatrical platform for social-justice programming. But who is to say that fair should have no place in what a woman wants in life and love?

Sooner/Later is a deep, bittersweet dive into one woman’s longing for an authentic relationship—with herself, with a man, and with a child—not necessarily in that order. “I want a kid so badly,” says thirty-something Nora at one point. “More than I want a man.” But Nora does not want to be a single mom: “I’m doing it the old-fashioned way or I’m not doing it at all.” That is the dilemma that drives this delicately nuanced drama by Allyson Currin, who has artfully steered clear of the sentimental and veered toward the transcendental.

Cristina M. Ibarra (Lexie), Erica Chamblee (Nora), and Tony K. Nam (Griff) in ‘Sooner/Later.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

The play is in two acts that segue one into the other. In the first, we meet a vivacious teenager, Lexie (Cristina M. Ibarra), who keeps egging on Nora (Erica Chamblee) to find the man who will be her dad—which means sending Nora on blind dates and picking out what to wear. “This outrages the feminist in me,” Nora jokes, not really joking. The delightful interplay between Ibarra’s and Chamblee’s performances is sharp-funny and sharp-biting:

NORA: Do I have to go on this date?
LEXIE: I’m making you.

NORA: So we are two lifeless females waiting for some guy? I’m not liking the sound of that.
LEXIE: It’s not about “some guy.” You know that.

NORA: At some point doesn’t it behoove me to cultivate my own personhood or something like that? That’s what the magazines recommend.

Nora goes to meet her blind dates at a nearby coffee shop called Grounds for Impeachment (which got an apt laugh). A thirty-something man named Griff (Tony K. Nam) happens by and notices her waiting there, futilely, for guys who turn out to be no-shows. Between Griff and Nora there blooms a gently quirky courtship—though it takes a while for them both to realize it—and the scenes between Nam and Chamblee are so charming and disarming we sense long before their characters do that they are perfect for each other. Chamblee gets the broad humor in Nora’s prickly reluctance just right, and Nam’s sensitive portrayal of Griff’s empathic patience especially impresses. He’s like a model of how not to be a dick, even as, without irony, he freely admits to being one.

LEXIE: They MIGHT connect.
But there is nothing I can do about it.
There is only probability and chance. I have to sit back and wait.
And long for the mother and father I know I want someday…

Tony K. Nam (Griff) and Erica Chamblee (Nora) in ‘Sooner/Later.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

DC playwright Allyson Currin’s Sooner/Later is the fourth “locally grown” play produced by Mosaic Theater—following Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s Hooded, Caleen Sinnette Jennings’s  Queens Girl in Africa, and Psalmayene 24’s Les Deux Noirs—and it significantly represents Mosaic’s recent resolve to foreground women’s voices, with support from the Trish Vradenburg Play Commission.

Sooner/Later premiered at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park a year ago with an all-white cast. In choosing actors of color for the DC premiere, Director Gregg Henry brings a dimension to the play that aligns and resonates with Mosaic’s cultural-fusion mission. And the normalized beauty in the biracial family they form is a big part of how and why this play touches the heart with the soul of equality.

As the second act begins, Lexie is no longer the ardent matchmaker; she has become a tempestuous teen given to self-pitying tantrums. For her mother Nora and, now, her father Griff, she is a handful and a half. But time has been bent. Then and now are not what we thought. Something metaphysical is going on. As we piece together what was, in the first act, and what comes after, in the second, Sooner/Later takes on unexpected poignancy. Somewhere in the middle distance between the playwright’s imagination and ours, the lives of Nora, Lexie, and Griff become a singular story of happiness and sorrow commingled.

Tony K. Nam (Griff), Cristina M. Ibarra (Lexie), and Erica Chamblee (Nora), in ‘Sooner/Later.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Debra Booth’s set is a beige proscenium box that doesn’t exist anywhere except possibly in the characters’ minds. An oversize drawer pulls out stage left revealing a wardrobe of fashions from Target and T.J. Max tellingly chosen by Danielle Preston, and from this assortment Lexie selects what Nora should wear. Underscoring Lexie’s several stirring monologues—including a stunner Ibarra delivers about the seven ages of woman—Evan Cook lets us hear subtle strains of string instruments and murmurs of nature. And Kyle Grant’s lights shift place and time with dreamlike ease. By design, just like in memory, we are given few moorings, with the result that the exquisite moment-to-moment relational emotions in Sooner/Later are always at the forefront for us to feel.

Running time: 85 minutes, with no intermission.

Sooner/Later plays through June 16, 2019, at Mosaic Theater Company performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Sprenger Theatre – 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 ext 2 or purchase them online.

Previous articleReview: ‘Hand to God’ by Fredericksburg Theatre Ensemble
Next articleWords Matter: Contemporary America Theater Festival 2019 Season Preview
John Stoltenberg
Among the hats John Stoltenberg wears are novelist and author, creative director and communications strategist, and avid theatergoer. Decades ago, in college, he began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile Stoltenberg’s own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then his life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction and what became a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.