Christopher Shinn Plays: 2

Christopher Shinn

Bloomsbury Methuen Drama

Released 27 July 2017

Review by Philip Fisher

This second collected volume of plays by Christopher Shinn is timely, since its publication coincides with the Almeida production of his latest work, Against.

Now or Later

Some plays seem absolutely of their time. That appeared to be the case when Now or Later first took to the stage at the Royal Court in 2008.

It focused on an American election process and more particularly the influence of the media on both policy and the result itself.

The central figure is John, a gay student, played in the original London production by the up-and-coming Eddie Redmayne.

In addition to being a bright kid, John just happens to be the son of a Democrat poised to become the next President of the United States of America.

Events take place on election night itself, as the family awaits good news, accompanied by assorted spin doctors and the odd friend.

The heat is turned up when first photos and then a video of John, dressed as the prophet Mohammed at a frat party, are exposed on the Internet with inflammatory consequences.

What was an amusing and insightful play in 2008 seems to be even more pertinent to events across the pond over the last 12 months and there seems every chance that they will continue to shed light on the USA throughout the Trump tenure.

Four                      

This early play was written “in late adolescence” and appears to be an attempt by Shinn to understand his own sexuality and interactions with the adult world.

It centres on two meetings as fireworks are about to go off on 4 July. In the first, a white boy of 16 named June has a first physical meeting with Joe, a middle-aged black man, with whom he has been chatting on the Internet.

Their nervous conversations are mirrored by those of Joe’s daughter Abigail, also 16, and a Latino college basketball star Dexter, three years her senior.

While the younger duo seem happy to settle for sexual experience, Joe and Dexter both seek something more, trying to learn about their prospective lovers and develop something deeper.

Picked

Christopher Shinn has proved at least as popular in the UK as his home country. However, the last two plays have so far only played in the United States, where Picked premièred in 2011.

This satire on the motion picture industry works on the premise that a director, John, decides to interrogate the brain of actor Kevin, with the intention of creating a wholly new, neo-realistic work of art.

The quid pro quo is that Kevin should be launched on the road to fame and fortune, with luck dragging his unemployed actress girlfriend Jen along in the slipstream.

What might be termed a psychological comedy develops as Kevin and Nick, another actor brought into the project, bond.

By the end of the play, each of the relationships has changed while, if nothing else, Kevin has a far deeper understanding of both his own psyche and the cutthroat movie business.

On the Mountain

The final play looks at the burgeoning relationship between a middle-aged pair, Sarah and Carrick, observed by the former’s daughter Jaime.

Sarah is a former alcoholic who has never fully recovered from her experiences as a groupie to a rock star who self-destructed. This makes life difficult for 16-year-old Jaime, who has her own demons to conquer.

Carrick’s interest could be innocent or sinister in a piece that might succeed in shedding accurate light on life for many of the less privileged in the States today but is far too gritty to offer much cheer.