Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ball Yards by Chuck Faerber


Joe Straw

UCLA football season is almost upon us and everyone on the Westside is wondering if the boisterous and ESPN favorite Josh Rosen is going to live up to the hype. Two frustrating years has led to, well to be perfectly frank, not even a mention of Rosen and Heisman in the same sentence.

But honestly, how can Rosen be solely to blame?  He has had the fastest receivers in the west – all running the 40 like Jamaican track stars – who, unfortunately, appear to have applied a generous dose of slip and slide to their fingers, having dropped more passes than they caught.  In the gridiron of justice, all are guilty as charged.

(Please get someone slower, with iron claws, which can hunt down a football being thrown over a span of 1 to 37 yards.)

It’s unfortunate because Rosen’s YouTube highlight reel is a 15 second reel over a two-year span of the passes that UCLA receivers caught.  

The passes that slipped between the receivers’ fingers last year alone is a two-hour lowlight nightmare reel.

When you think about the passes missed, Rosen’s numbers would have been close to the best in the nation.  This is unfortunate. – Narrator

Ball Yards by Chuck Faerber and directed by Richard Kuhlman at the Zephyr Theatre is a very satisfying night of theatre. This production runs through Sunday August 27, 2017.

Ball Yards is a wonderfully written play that supports a stellar cast of unusual miscreant characters. It is about sports and the people behind the scenes supporting the games. But there is something different about this play, about the people and the backstory to their lives.

Ball Yards plays out in a number of vignettes with a truthful but satirical look at the games of sports.  

The play starts at Augusta with Grand Kleagle (John Marzilli), a member of the Klu Klux Klan.  It is Augusta’s program that is outreaching to angry white men.  It’s working for this Klansman as he gets to hit some balls on the early morning driving range. Golf Pro (Mike Ross) is there to teach him how to play.  Unfortunately, there are objects stifling his game, like the rope, the long knife and the gun stuffed in his pants.  The hood is also getting in the way and that’s when we discover Grand Kleagle has no teeth.

NPR has done a surprising thing by hiring Poet Laureate (Matt Shea), a product of Flatbush neighbor in Brooklyn, to give his perspective on the game. Another one of NPR’s winning ideas in the name of sports is to introduce Mayan Athlete (Christopher T. Wood) and his connection to Chico Rodriguez (also Christopher T. Wood). Sadly, this scene didn’t work; it did not connect well to the rest of the play.

Formally Ginny and now Jimmy Cummings (Scott Keiji Takeda) is having a hard problem during his transition period.  He identifies as male now but he is still wearing a support bra, albeit an athletic supporting bra if that makes a difference.  Jimmy is a radio sportscaster now and is doing well despite getting hysterical when talking about the game.  This is possibly an emotional trait he has to work on when transitioning.

Art Phlegm (Byron Hays) and Irv Coolridge (Mike Ross) are football announcers on one of the biggest games of the year, USC and Notre Dame.  They have an announcing battle, that they plan to fight to the death. The goal is to see who can be the most colorful commentator using the most current colorful catch phrases of the day.

Television loves to give the backstory of an athlete, providing something the audience can identify with, like a death in the family, the heroic deeds by a family member. TV Producer (John Marzilli) intensely questions captain of the field hockey team, Jan Berman (Marissa Drammissi) to find her heroic background. Sadly she has no heroes in her family except for the who doesn’t have those family members as a backstory to her journey.  The only thing she has is a Nazi neighbor who has had a sorted past.

Irv Coolridge finds Art Phelgm sleeping at Dodger Stadium and it is Irv’s job to get Art back on his feet again.

Jimmy Cummings, now in reporter mode, has an interview with Chico Rodriguez, a future #1 NFL draft pick out of Notre Dame. Chico confides to Jimmy that he wants to leave the game of football, but during the course of their conversation Jimmy gets offended by an offhanded remark about “showering with a black man”.

Ball Yards has outstanding group actors who really put out a grand effort to make this world premier work and it works on a number of levels. Richard Kuhlman, the director, keeps this fast pace comedy working to maximum fun. The Poet Laureate scene needs work.  One is not sure where it is going, or how it fits over the course of the play.

Marissa Drammissi does extraordinary work especially as Jan Berman who has left her athletic career behind her to go into law. Drammissi displays a lot of physicality throughout; the cheerleader classes came in handy for this production.

Byron Hays has a terrific voice and a very nice way about the stage. There is not a lot of differences in the characters of Art Phlegm and the football coach which made things slightly confusing. But Hays brings a lot to the table in voice and movement on a relatively bare stage.

John Marzilli is a physical specimen as the TV Producer.  The Producer is a man who will stop at nothing to get his way.  Marzilli also has strong voice, moves fluidly, and has a terrific way about the stage. He appears to have done a lot of yoga in settling in on a very physical scene.  

Mike Ross does a grand job creating two specific characters.  Ross, the out-of-luck Golf Pro, added many layers to make this character multi-dimensional.  Irv Coolridge was another character in which Ross created an unusual backstory.  The work was terrific.  

Matt Shea does some good work as Poet Laureate but there is little dramatic change in character as Jack Durkee who measures the stool of famous athletes.  The beard and long hair are a major part of his look and these are too distinctive to allow for a significant character change. But Shea’s work is solid.  Still we really need to find a way to make that second character work.

Scott Teiji Takeda is impressive as Jimmy.  Ginny may be another story.  This is a tricky role that Takeda handles with a certain type of finesse of someone who is transitioning.  Finding ways to bring Ginny out would add to the role and it needs to be more than the dialogue. Ginny needs to be brought out with more physical attributes.   

Christopher T. Wood works some of his magic in a number of roles, Chico Rodriguez, and Condoleezza Rice.  Wood is tall and statuesque; he is the spittin’ image of Condoleezza! His craft is excellent and his Dominican accent is impeccable.

Racquel Lehman, Theatre Planners has a wonderful knack of finding new and exciting material.

Gary Lee Reed, Scenic Designer, does a lot with the little bits of set pieces on stage. The movable walls were superior.  

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Wendell C. Carmichael – Costume Designer
Donny Jackson – Lighting Designer
David S. Marling – Sound Designer
Bonnie Bailey-Reed – Property Mistress
Kiff Scholl/AFK Design – Graphic Designer
Misha Riley, Theatre Planners – Assistant Producer
Philip Sokoloff – Publicist
Danny Crisp – Stage Manager

Run! Run! And take a former amateur athlete with you, someone who can hang on to the ball and understands the meaning of team play.

RESERVATIONS:  (323) 960-7738.

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