Playwright R. Eric Thomas’ “Time is On Our Side” is a comic queer mystery, grounded in an ice-cream-sundae examination of oppression at the times of the Underground Railroad, Stonewall, and the AIDS crisis, with Rosa Parks sprinkled on top. That’s a tall order.
In this two-plus-hour four-hander, everyone has a lot to do. To answer the dictates of the plot, perfect pace is optimal or we’ll gulp down the syrup before we learn how it flavors the cream. Gear-shifting between campy hip-popping and grounded history-telling is no small task and director Megan Carney’s cast of Maggie Scrantom, Rashaad Hall, Esteban Andres Cruz and Riley Mondragon meet the challenge with grace.
Scrantom rides a rollercoaster when a secret journal written by her deceased grandmother is uncovered, causing her lesbian character who works in the history business, to freak out as it forces grandma out of the closet. As the backbone of the narrative, this suffers from unbelievability. Cruz is hilarious and deeply emotional in turn, although even as adept an actor as he couldn’t land all the one-liners that fall on the ear as specific to another actor, possessing a singular, verbal rhythm. And what does the character played by the delightful Mondragon “want”?
We would miss Mondragon but perhaps not the characters she portrays. That isn’t all that could stand a trimming. Do we need to wonder how bad things are at home for Hall? How often do we need to hear about Scrantom’s ex? How much will the protagonist demur about everything? As to the “mystery,” any reader of Dame Christie will see the denouement a mile away.
All this aside, this play is important. The stories that mattered to me—and that I would like to see under less soil—have to do with the question of ownership of past secrets, the passing of another generation’s wisdom, and the importance of “sacred spaces.” We watch the shoveling, which is often very entertaining, and if we hang on through the overwrought and continuing exposition, we are gifted a golden glimpse of these discussions. Let’s uncover and devour them. Then lick the spoon. (Aaron Hunt)
About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont, (773)975-8150, aboutfacetheatre.com, $20-$38. Through April 7.