Unlike with garden-variety tearjerkers, such as those that litter the Lifetime network or the plays that seem to have been based on its programming (David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole springs to mind), Jonas makes you work for those tears. Within the first few minutes of the play, you already know the outcome (a trick borrowed, he admits, from Romeo and Juliet), and since Jonas is the only actor onstage, widespread emotional pandemonium a la August: Orange County is not in the cards.
It doesn't matter. Jonas so vividly constructs and performs the fraternal core of his drama, Elijah and Ace Blaivas, that you feel as though you've known this struggling family all your life. Elijah displays all the awkward callousness of a 13-year-old uninterested in everything except girls, but over the next five years convincingly evolves into a mushy proponent of sibling revelry. Ace's inborn nonconformist tendencies - his favorite song is The Scheme's "Last Night in Boston (Made)", which is like flaying the skin of his rock-loving brother - and his wide-eyed adoration for Elijah make him the unforgettable embodiment of empty-vessel innocence.
Capture Now, which Larry Moss directs with unwaveringly quiet sensitivity, is about nothing more than what Elijah and Ace teach each other, before but especially after Ace's diagnosis of brain cancer. It's more than enough. Jonas carefully redirects every aspect of the plot back through the brothers' relationship, so that problems with parents, friends, girls, and life in general are always relevant to the central love story. And as long as the focus remains on the brothers, it packs a devastatingly honest wallop.
There are times, however, that the play sacrifices some of that power at the feet of its satellite characters. Mom and Dad come off well enough as painfully articulate examples of adult grief to contrast the more youthful variety that's the show's general focus. But Elijah's Puero-Rican girlfriend and the ancient waitress at the boys' neighborhood diner veer dangerously close to caricature, something that's all the more off-putting in a show that otherwise scrupulously avoids such easy ways out. If some comedy is understandably necessary to leaven the play's very dark second half, the kind Jonas has chosen typically feels more like reaching than realistic.
It's the only thing in Capture Now that does. In every other respect, this glimmering gem of a play earns every box of Kleenex you'll need to get through it, smoothly proving along the way that even the smallest of people can have a huge impact on our lives.