The 14th Street Y’s production of The Other Day by Mark Jason Williams appears, at first glance, to be a story about struggling with addiction. Which it is; 12-steps meetings are a focal setting that characters return to throughout the show, and the audience members are even welcomed at the start to the day’s “meeting” and thanked for listening despite not sharing their own stories. Then it appears to be a story about homosexuality, as the two main characters come out to each other in the first scene. But both these issues ultimately loom in the background, acting as vehicles through which the characters explore a theme which can personally touch any audience: honesty, and how honesty truly means nothing if it’s not expressed in a healthy way.
Their story unexpectedly exhibits some elements of your everyday rom-com: the guarded, insecure Mark meets the bold, flirtatious Santo (albeit after a 12-steps meeting). They fall in love, open up to each other about the darkness in their pasts, and try to build a new life together. But although Santo (Sandro Isaack) succeeds in coaxing Mark (David Dean Bottrell) to spend that night with him and begin their tumultuous relationship of two-plus years, the play is not a tale of happy and clean ever after. They are flanked in their journey by Mark’s half-sister Dina (Elizabeth Inghram), a working-woman-turned-trophy-wife now feeling unfulfilled in her life and marriage, and by Steven (John Gazzale), Mark’s post-Santo Dutch lover who serves as Santo’s foil and gives Mark a glimpse into what expressing oneself and loving another healthily should be.
It’s easy to jump between liking the characters for their depth, loathing them for their flaws, and pitying them for their situation, but in any case the actors all deliver on making audiences feel something, deeply, for the people they portray. Isaack’s Santo is the standout performance. Beneath the character’s cockiness, swagger, and underwear printed with the smiling sunglasses emoji is a raw vulnerability and fear, and Isaack excellently executes both emotional extremes and every mood in between. He even does all of that within a few minutes when he discusses his and Mark’s history at one 12-steps meeting.
But both his and Mark’s bursts of vulnerability are met in equal parts by outbursts and passive-aggressive comments about the problems between them; at times, some of these scenes can feel slightly repetitive, but it’s a minor flaw that detracts little from the power of the story. Amidst a cycle of disputes and reconciliations, there is also truth expressed best through the musical interludes during some scene changes – soulful, jazzy selections convey the feelings the characters wish they could feel and the words that they just can’t figure out how to say.
Luckily, peppered into the script is some necessary comic relief – a few offhand jabs at New Jersey and Republicans, and some raunchy bits (this is a good time to mention that the show is not for young audiences) that let us forget for just a second the despair unfolding on the stage. But soon enough the depth of the characters’ brokenness is reminded of us again, and we remember that we almost shouldn’t be laughing. In a way, the audience is left to grapple with much of what the characters do – trying to enjoy the good, lighthearted times but knowing there will be more dark moments ahead. The Other Day can be seen as a cautionary tale against not facing problems truthfully and openly, but it doesn’t leave audiences despairing; there is room for hope. One of the most striking thoughts is a positive one, delivered by Steven: “Instead of planning future moments, we should simply enjoy this one.” One future moment you should plan, though, is the day you go to see this show.