Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: Hitting It Out of the Park

By Michael Block

A mother disconnected from reality, a teen boy toying with love, a mom grappling with discussing death with her daughter, and a teen girl learning to move on. Four characters intertwine in a small town through the lens of a youth baseball league. Little League, written by Jack Spagnola, is a fulfilling, slice of life relationship play that leaves you wanting more.
As part of the Frigid Festival, Little League chronicles a quartet of characters as they make a bench on a tuft of grass at a baseball field their home of revelations. Phoebe and Marsha are mothers to two kids on the team. Marsha's kid is a star. Phoebe's kid keeps running into the outfield after getting a hit. Sam and Darya are one of those teen couples who are distracted by life post-graduation and what it means to them. As the play continues, we learn about these four individuals and their hopes, fears, and dreams through a slightly quirky and accessible style of writing. Spagnola's Little League is one of those plays that just naturally works because the characters are fundamentally real as you can get. You know these kids. You know these moms. They left effortlessly from the page to create an engaging yet simplistic narrative. Spagnola's writing is crisp and clear. His dialogue is accessible with a tinge of gravitas. While you may not like to compare, but there is something about Spagnola's writing in Little League that mirrors The Vandal by Hamish Linklater. It's especially true in the scene between Sam and Marsha as they bond over marijuana, which happens to be the strongest scene overall. For the audience, we know that the overall stakes for the characters are relatively low, but for the characters, it's almost as if they signify the end of the world. And that makes the action enjoyable. Watching their actions and reactions are universally common.
When you have great writing, you need great actors. Thankfully for Little League, they had great actors. The four actors of Little League truly took what was on the page and elevated it on the stage. Leading the team was Bartley Booz as Sam. Booz has an innate ability to land naturalistic comedy. His beats were stellar. His expressions were spot on. Booz is an engaging performer whose dynamic on stage sets him apart. Certainly, one to keep an eye on. Kea Trevett played the cool mom you wished you had. As Marsha, Trevett displayed a variety in her character dependant on her scene partner. With Phoebe, there was a bit more calmness, even when she was clamoring on about the bunny. With Sam, Marsha resorted back to the good ol' days of her youth as she matched wits with a teenager. Finding the depth in her character truly made her performance one of the strongest. Interestingly, Booz and Trevett veered into this sitcom style of performance that was captivating and left you wanting to see more. They were a little bit bigger but real enough. Barrie Kealoha took on the goody-two-shoes mom as Phoebe. While she wasn't above her mommy counterpart, you could tell she had a bit more maturity and just wants to fit in. With the interesting plotline of a mom addicted to technology, Kealoha's grasp on Phoebe's disconnection to reality was authentic. Leslie Class as Darya mastered the teenage girl persona. She fell flat at moments, but her chemistry with Booz's Sam was unparalleled.
Noam Shapiro's directing performance was a homerun. Shapiro made this piece feel effortlessly natural and authentic. Festivals such as Frigid can be limiting to a production. And let Little League did the impossible. The less is more theory was a major factor of its success. And it all started with a striking preshow image with the hint of a baseball field with the bench on the "grass" and the colorscape lighting designer Paul Purvine chose. It just worked. And Purvine's brilliance carried through into the show. By limiting the stage pictures, Shapiro allowed Purvine to focus in on the action in an intimate manner. It's likely the lighting grid was not a designer's best friend and yet Purvine did the impossible.
Little League is one of those shows you know will have a long future. There's more to this play. This hour long snippet was a perfect way to get a taste of Jack Spagnola's exquisite writing and Naom Shapiro's sharp direction. I look forward when I can see this one again.