Lucky to be members of Director Sean Daniels Cohort Club we were privileged to sit in on the first read through of this new play by Mat Smart. After introductions around the room the actors James Cravens and Emily Kitchens read the play through from beginning to end with Stage Manager Frank Cavallo reading the stage directions (which in this script are quite detailed about what is seen on stage).
Following the reading came my favorite part of watching this stage of play development – watching the characters begin to develop. Sean asked that “we go through it again so that we all know where we are” What he meant was that “we” figure out what is not in the script, imagining the backgrounds of the characters or the events that may have happened to the characters earlier in the day or earlier in their lives. Why is R.J. (James Cravens) reading a play script written by the mother of Lauren (Emily Kitchens)? When did Lauren buy the ticket to take her mother to the playoff game? What would the progression of her mother’s stroke have been since she last visited? On and on they went, expanding on some stories, discarding others as irrelevant to the understanding of the script. The fascinating thing for me about watching this was trying to understand exactly where the character we will finally see on stage comes from. Is it the playwright or the director or the actors? The playwright has presented the characters through script dialog. The director and actors are fleshing out the characters and bringing them to life while staying true to the script. It was notable that Mat, the playwright, did not interject with his thoughts about what the characters might be thinking or how they came to become who they are. I would imagine that he has to resist the temptation to jump in and give everyone the answer but must allow the characters to be developed while he watches. (We, the cohort, were forced to quietly watch as well although we all wanted to jump in with suggestions. One hour into watching the development of this play at Geva and we are already fully invested!)
This is a play about baseball, or about several characters who are heavily invested baseball fans and the details of the play center around real baseball events. But it is not a play just for baseball fans. I, David, have absolutely no interest in baseball or following sports (for the record Anna Marie IS a FAN of the Yankees). Nevertheless, I am aware of the Chicago Cub’s legendary curse to always lose and know who Tinkers, Evers, and Chance were; it has become part of our lexicon. What is impressive about this play is that Mat Smart has written a sports play that non sports fans will enjoy just as much. The characters are fascinating and complex, the dialog is engaging, and the historical references are interesting and necessary to the story. Although there are many detailed references to the Cubs he is very careful to include enough background in the dialog that everyone can “get” the references while still not talking beneath the sports fans who already know the historical details. Sean Daniels (a sports fan), in explaining to us why he chose this play said that this was the “first sports play I read that got the metaphor right”. I think I understand what he meant and I know I will enjoy this play – you won’t need to be a sports fan to become instantly engaged with this story.