Review by Brendan McCall
The Fierce Urgency of Now
Written by Doug DeVita
Directed by Dennis Corsi
Premiered on 29 March, as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.
–Dr. Martin Luther King, 28 August 1963
To name your work with a title referencing Dr. King’s famous speech from the March on Washington is bold, insinuating that this story will be impassioned and fervent. Especially when your play premieres the same day as the historic trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Doug DeVita´s The Fierce Urgency of Now is not about systemic racism, however. Kicking off a series of radio plays for the Fresh Fruit Festival, the piece is polite instead of political, and its edges never really cut.
The radio play–which began as a stage play, and is apparently being adapted into a screenplay–is described as a “fast-moving caustic comedy” exploring homophobia and ageism in the ad world. Ostensibly, this is true. To be sure, the energy of the dramatic writing aims for comparisons with Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward, where perhaps every other line prickles with barbed wit. But in DeVita´s play, the clever humor evinces a few smiles but oddly, given the subject matter, never erupts into scathing confrontational laughter. The teeth of this play nibbles, when it needs to bite.
Openly gay and perenially snarky Kyle (Matthew Jellison) is angry that he is being pulled off of a number of accounts at his New York advertising agency, and instead partnered with the older Dodo (Laura Crouch). The narrative arc of their relationship is conventional and predictable: you know that this odd couple will inevitably bond and help one another, each learning new things along the way. But while the facts of Kyle´s sexual identity and Dodo´s age arise throughout the play, the bulk of the dramatic action in The Fierce Urgency of Now is focused on completing some project deadlines over the Christmas holiday. What consequences do these two really suffer from this New York ad agency of the mind? What is at stake, if they do not complete their assignments in time over the winter? By the end of the piece, as Dodo joins Kyle on a significant and symbolic flight, we never really know.
Director Dennis Corsi harnesses clear and articulate vocal performances from each of the actors in DeVita´s play, and the use of sound and music during scene transitions helps to keep the hour-long piece moving.
Maybe I´m the wrong audience for this work, but experiencing this radio play as a bisexual male or a long time performance artist was disappointing. The Fierce Urgency of Now plays it safe, both in terms of content as well as form, and feels unintentionally akin to a magazine ad: glossy, hinting at politics and power, but ultimately remaining only on the surface.