Playwright: R. Eric Thomas
At: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-975-8150; AboutFaceTheatre.com; $20-$38. Runs through: April 7
History may be written by the victors, as Winston Churchill observed. But who actually owns it? That's the intriguing question at the heart of R. Eric Thomas' Time Is on Our Side, now in a sturdy Midwest premiere with About Face Theatre under Megan Carney's direction.
Annie (Maggie Scranton) and Curtis (Rashaad Hall) are friends and co-hosts of a Philadelphia podcast aimed at uncovering hidden history, particularly from a queer perspective. But when Annie discovers her late grandmother's diaryand its implications that Grandma led a secret lesbian lifeshe shies away from going public. From her viewpoint, it's her family's story. But Curtis argues that the story belongs to all of them as a relic of when being closeted was the default setting for so many gay men and women.
Curtis' interest in Grandma Gisella's secrets also has a less-noble motivation, at least initially. He wants to partner with Fatimah, Annie's ex-partner and a producer at NPR, to take their podcast to the next professional level. Meantime, their friends Rene (Esteban Andres Cruz) and Claudia (Riley Mondragon) drop bread crumbs of wisdom and revelation. (Rene teaching Curtis, who has been partnered since college, the finer points of cruising for sex in the park is a comic highlight.) Cruz and Mondragon also shine as older gay men who fill in historical blanks for Annie and Curtis.
Thomas has a wry and puckish wit that occasionally veers into self-conscious dialogue. (The characters sometimes sound a lot like each other.) Some of the narrative threads, such as an early teaser about Annie's home (formerly Gisella's) also being a stop on the Underground Railroad, feel shoehorned in for the sake of making symbolic historical equivalences.
But Carney's cast brings warmth and honesty to the story. Hall's Curtis is calculating, but we also sense that uncovering Annie's family history is a way of making up for being rejected by his own grandfathera prominent African-American journalist who can't accept Curtis' sexuality.
It's also fascinating to see Annie especiallya woman who works for the historical society and is from the share-everything-in-public generationcome to terms with revealing the compromises her grandmother made. Thomas' script telegraphs some of the final revelations, but that doesn't impede the joy of watching this quartet of actors find their way through the fog of history into the light of grace and community.