Playwright: Richard Greenberg. At: Eclectic Theatre Company at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: 773-935-6875; www.eclectic-theatre.com; $25. Runs through: Nov. 2
Richard Greenberg launches his world of sports play with superstar batter Darren Lemming announcing to the press that he is gay, but the repercussions vested upon his teammates, his fans and his career will not be what we expect. Darren's problem, you see, is not that he is gay, but that he believes he can do no wrongthe undoing of tragic heroes since the Greeks starred in the Dionysic leagues.
Athletes being almost exclusively focused on physical prowess, the low level of introspective self-analysis in the locker room makes for only minor disturbances as a result of Darren's revelationuntil the team encounters a losing streak, leading to the introduction of a new pitcher to the line-up. He is Shane Mungitt, the product of a childhood fraught with poverty, violence and neglect, his talent at throwing strikes representing his sole opportunity for escape. After an ill-conceived interview where Mungitt invokes the xenophobic vocabulary reflecting his regional roots, media attention exacerbates hitherto-undetected intramural rivalries until a misguided showdown ensures that everyone loses.
To prevent our moral compasses wavering in the heat of competition so that we revel in the downfall of the "enemy" ( even when defeat destroys any hope of their ever being anything but the enemy ), Greenberg provides us a two-man chorusKip, the team's shortstop, and Mason, Darren's business manager. Viewing the events from the vantage afforded by a peripatetic education, their insight and eloquence enables them to act as interpreters for their less articulate comrades.
Plays founded on roomfuls of testosterone-spitting males can easily succumb to sentimental caricature, but Greenberg's unswervingly intelligent script adheres to the rules of its classical prototypes by ascertaining that nobody emerges unsullied as they follow the fates' inexorable course. The Eclectic Theatre Company cast exhibits uniformly excellent ensemble work, even when swapping dialogue buck-nekked in the shower scenes. Ruben Adorno's cheerfully egotistical Darren and newcomer Chris Rozenboom's angry Shane never deviate from the poignancy of their fundamentally innocent personae, while Charlie Rasmann and Andrew Pond's Kip and Mason deliver their subtextual nuances with the verbal agility and effortless grace of practiced bullpen sages.
Greenberg's play encompasses sufficient baseball lore to satisfy fans of the Great American you-know-what, but even if you don't know a base-on-balls from a baba-au-rhum, the multiple metaphors inherent in this familiar cultural phenomenon will replay in your mind like the last game of the season.