“We all have our addictions,” says the protagonist of Mark Jason Williams’s play The Other Day. “Sex, drugs, failing relationships.” But if the biggest themes of our life are actually addictions, which are worth giving yourself over to completely?
This is the question The Other Day seeks to answer. Now finishing its premiere run at the 14th Street Y’s theatre season of “War + Peace,” it’s a stunning full-fledged production for the award-winning playwright, highlighting his masterful ability to elevate subtlety to passionate art. In this story of a gay couple who connect through an anonymous substance-abuse support group, Williams gives us a world where even the tiniest sensations have the rush of full-body intimacy.
The first meeting between Mark (David Dean Bottrell) and Santo (Sandro Isaack) is beautifully nuanced. Could Mark be too uptight or is he properly protecting himself? Do Santo’s persistent come-ons make him a charming, earnest suitor or an overconfident predator? Once they embark on a whirlwind romance, set to the sounds of lesser-known Aretha Franklin tracks, each ensuing moment with this duo becomes another stitch in their ambiguous tapestry of grown-up love. Here’s the good and bad news, kids: Relationships never get easier at any age.
Though perfectly suited to the stage, The Other Day’s combination of true-to-life humor and tragedy, switching between the two as only twists of fate can, invokes some cinematic gems. Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy comes to mind, its quietly haunting musings on time providing parallels with the karmic journeys that Williams’s characters must take here. And like Ira Sachs’s Love Is Strange, the play explores the relationship intricacies of two people in or approaching middle age with visceral naturalness. Williams comments, “That movie was simply complex, and that’s something I tried to do here. I really wanted people to feel they were looking through the window at [Mark and Santo’s real life] and not every scene had to be this big dramatic meltdown.”
He admits that experience had something to do with it; the playwright began working on the script at age 28, continuing to rewrite his leads older as he got into his 30s. Having turned 40 this year, Williams agreed with director Andrew Block to cast The Other Day slightly older still, as they both believed it would heighten the story’s effect: “If you lose someone or have a new relationship in your 50s, it’s a lot different than when you’re 20 or 30 or 40. Casting David as Mark really opened the door for me to bring something to the stage that we don’t see a lot… Moving forward, whoever this play casts, I think all along these characters were meant to be that age.”
Most striking about The Other Day is its universal meditation on love and loss. Regardless of sexual identity, we all suffer from the highs and lows of weathering relationships, and somehow we find ways to survive. Whether it’s escapism like Mark’s unhappily-married sister Dina (Elizabeth Inghram), whose initially comic characterization opens to reveal hidden depths by the end of the play, or the philosophical acceptance of suave European Steven (John Gazzale), we’re somehow able to attain life’s beauty in small beats and flashes, and that’s hope enough to press forward for what’s next.
It was Block’s idea to echo this rhythm in the play’s Aretha-laced soundtrack. The director recalls, “I was actually looking for covers of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ because it’s dropped into the conversation at the end of the play… I knew that song was perfect, because my concept of the piece was that on a bridge, people are getting over something, looking out over something beautiful, standing at a distance but also standing over it. At the same time, Aretha Franklin was dying. She’s a beloved person who universally everyone could fall in love with, and so I found her cover and went, ‘Oh, my God, this is absolutely perfect.’ So I knew that the middle section of the play, which is about Mark and Santo’s romance developing, needed an extra layer that only music could define. I brought in other pieces that could help underscore it, but weren’t the obvious hits. Like we know Aretha Franklin, but now we get to know something else about her that we’re not super familiar with, which mirrors what the characters go through when they’re learning about each other. [In real life] we’re mourning the loss of Aretha Franklin, so it helps drive that theme of the piece home too.”
Consider The Other Day vital, yet ephemeral á la a loved one’s bear hug. It may crush you slightly, but it’s just what you need to go on. It only lasts so long, but once it’s done, you’ll wish for more. C’est la vie – bravo.
THE OTHER DAY concludes its run at the 14th Street Y on September 23, 2018 at 4PM. Get tickets here.