Sean Grennan

Sean Grennan

A young barkeep gets late-night advice (and a hard-to-refuse offer) from a world-weary drinker in Now and Then, the new four-actor romance by Sean Grennan that will have its world premiere by Wisconsin’s Peninsula Players Theatre June 12-July 1.

Peninsula Players is something of an artistic home for Grennan. He has acted at the Door County summer theater over the years, and the world premiere of his plays The Tin Woman and Making God Laugh were hits and have gone on to have wide regional lives. He answered a handful of questions prior to rehearsals for the play.

Tom Mula (who staged the Pen Players world premiere of Making God Laugh in 2011 and The Tin Woman in 2014) directs the new comedy-drama set in a bar, where bartender Jamie (played by Sean Fortunato) is closing up shop when a wizened visitor (played by Pen Players artistic director Greg Vinkler) shows up. In the tradition of many bar-set plays, the stranger — called “The Man” in the script — spins out a tale.  The women in their lives — played by Erica Elam as Jamie’s girlfriend Abby and Barbara Robertson  as The Woman, respectively — also appear at the watering hole.

Here’s how Peninsula Players bills Now and Then: “An unbelievable, funny and ultimately moving story about love and its wayward ways. Jamie is a young aspiring pianist working as a bartender. He is closing up for the night when an amiable older gentleman, who seems to know the place very well, enters and engages him in a friendly conversation. Before you know it, the gentleman offers Jamie and his girlfriend, Abby, a thousand dollars — each — to sit and just talk with him for one hour. They both could use the money and with some reluctance agree, and then hear an incredible story that changes their lives. A surprising fable about what it means to really love someone.”

Grennan told me, “It is, at the end, very much a love story. It kind of asks us what is love worth in our lives? What is it worth going through for love? Are we destined to be with certain people? Even if we can change that destiny, should we?”

Poster art for the Peninsula Players world premiere of "Now and Then."

Poster art for the Peninsula Players world premiere of “Now and Then.”

The Now and Then production team includes stage manager Richelle Calin Harrington, scenic designer Sarah E. Ross, props designer Pauline Oleksy, costume designer Rachel Lambert, sound designer Mike Tutaj and lighting designer Steve White.

All signs point to Now and Then being a hot property even before its premiere. It already has two regional productions in the wings for fall 2018: at Lamb Arts Regional Theatre in Iowa and South Park Theatre in Pittsburgh.

Get ticket information about the 2018 season of Peninsula Players here.

Check out Sean Grennan’s other plays and musical on his official website. For the record, Making God Laugh has enjoyed 83 productions since its Peninsula Players premiere. It will get its Bay Area premiere by City Lights Theater Company in San Jose, CA, in late 2018.

My six-actor play Alabama Story was produced by Peninsula Players in summer 2016, marking its Midwest premiere.  I love following Pen Players’ commitment to new works.

Here’s my Q&A with Sean Grennan.

Take me to the starting point of Now and Then. What prompted it? What came into your head first? A world? A relationship?

Sean Grennan: I came across a word, I believe it’s a “new age” word so it’s not in that many dictionaries yet. The word is “enouement” and it means: “wistful sadness and not being able to tell your younger self what you know now.” I read that and I was sprung on this story.

There’s a great tradition of plays set in bars, where stories get spun and conflict arises. I’m thinking of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, among many others. Were you aware of that tradition and did you set out to be part of the heritage? What is it about a bar that loosens people up? What makes it a ripe theatrical setting?

Sean Grennan: I didn’t exactly set out to do my “bar” play but I soon realized I was. The advantage to it is also the challenge: it’s a “locked room” sort of piece. Additionally, “in vino veritas.” But also, I worked in a four-o’clock bar in Chicago for four years, so it’s a world I know pretty well. There is something clandestine, primal, and fun in closing a bar and sitting inside with a few choice friends late at night. Hey, it’s illegal!

Sean Fortunato will play Jamie in "Now and Then."

Sean Fortunato will play Jamie in “Now and Then.”

Who do you see as the primary relationship in the play?

Sean Grennan: The plot is kind of important to not spoil but I guess I would say that the main relationship shifts in the course of the evening. At first it’s definitely The Man and Jamie. Then there is a period where it’s Jamie and Abby, but finally, it’s the relationship between The Man and The Woman that the evening is taking us to.

There is a great sense of “need” from your characters. Their needs are urgent. Jamie and his girlfriend, Abby, get an unusual offer from The Man. Why do they accept? 

Sean Grennan: The Man needs to fix something in himself with the two younger people on this night and only gets the one chance. Jamie and Abby are struggling to fulfill their dreams and see the money offer as an easy way to get there. They figure they’ll have some drinks with this guy, talk, make what is a lot of money to them, no big deal. It’s not until later that they see that it’s not easy money at all.

A man in his thirties hearing the story of a man in his sixties seems to set this up as a life-lesson play. Is Jamie, the barkeep, at a crossroads?

Sean Grennan: Jamie is definitely at a crossroads.  He has dreams that he hasn’t fully committed to. He’s not sure where he’s going but has an idea and thinks that The Man can help.

Peninsula Players artistic director Greg Vinkler will play Sen. Higgins.

Peninsula Players artistic director Greg Vinkler will play The Man.

You’re a man of a certain age — late middle age. Is this a play you could have written in your twenties or thirties? Or does drawing on life experience help?

Sean Grennan: I do seem to be writing more “geezer” plays as I go. I think that’s because I believe you can see the arc of your life far better at my age than at 20. You see the same dumb behaviors, the same things that you fall into over and over, the same things that you finally have to just accept about yourself. I don’t think I could have written this play one minute before I did. There is a lot of regret in “The Man” and while I’ve long been plagued with that, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to step back from it. That doesn’t mean I’m free of it at all, only that I can sometimes get a better, healthier perspective on things. And I have realized that we all have them, that we all wake up in the middle of the night thinking of that stupid thing we wish we could do over. The mistakes we wish we could take back.

Tell me about the bar. Is it Irish? Is it small-town? Are we in your hometown of Chicago?  

Sean Grennan: I’ve imagined this in Chicago because it’s where I’m from and where I did my bartending. The bar I worked was named Fiddler’s Green. It’s no longer in existence — kind of a phony Irish bar of the sort that Chicago is marbled with.  It was a little divey but very popular in the area and we always did well. I say “phony” because it was really just a regular bar with a few Irish-looking decorations. I think the bar in the production will actually be a nicer, more authentic-looking bar than I worked. Sarah Ross is doing the set and she’s a damn genius having also designed/solved the much more problematic set for The Tin Woman. 

Erica Elam plays Abby in "Now and Then."

Erica Elam plays Abby in “Now and Then.”

You’ll be at rehearsal? Does the Pen Players schedule allow for rewrites and revisions?

Sean Grennan: As with the other shows I’ve done there, and all my shows at other places, really, I will be there at all rehearsals and I will be rewriting as we go. I do go through some paper and printer ink…  I’ve not often created whole new scenes for things, as I usually have the event structure pretty close but I firmly believe in the maxim “writing is rewriting.” Tom Mula has generously given me some gem ideas to go back to my room and execute. And at a certain point in the process, the actors know the show better than I do and have great suggestions or can at least let me know where it feels wrong. This cast is a bunch of stone-cold killers that I’m thrilled and honored to have so I’m sure we’ll be doing all of that as we go.


The 2018 Peninsula Players season also features productions of Christopher M. Walsh’s Miss Holmes, Joseph Zettelmaier’s Salvage, Bob Martin, Don McKellar, Lisa Lampert and Greg Morrison’s The Drowsy Chaperone and Joe DiPietro’s Living On Love.