Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Theatre & Baseball

Last week I attended performances at Washington's two top theatres--the Shakespeare Theater Company and the Arena Stage--the one put on by the Shakespeare was really a production it was hosting for the National Theatre of Scotland, called Black Watch, and at the Arena, I saw Kathleen Turner appearing as Molly Ivins, the wonderfully funny and iconoclastic journalist who died much too early.

Another attraction last week that I enjoyed was the last game of the regular baseball season here, the Nats v. the Phillies, on Wednesday. Although the Nats had clinched first place in their division, this win gave them home-field advantage throughout the post-season as they ended up tied with the Reds for that distinction but prevail based on their superior season record against Cincinnati. 

Black Watch is the account of how the storied regiment found being sent to Iraq as frustrating as every other elite military unit found that country.  The U.K. has been way ahead of the U.S. in recognizing that their leadership blindly and foolishly followed Bush II into two  needless wars, as Blair became what the British press described as "Bush's poodle".  The play features about ten enlisted men who cannot comprehend why they are where they are, much less see their comrades killed or wounded in a country that doesn't want them there.

There were endless warnings issued about the gunfire, explosions, and strobe that would occur during the show, and you were told toseek an usher to help you out of the hall if you needed to leave and sternly reminded that no one would be readmitted during the performance. So yes, there were mortar-simulating sounds and all the rest but I don't quite understand the need for all the precautions that we now are treated to everywhere. This wasn't even a performance where actors run up and down the aisles--which is when I could understand having warnings not to step out into the aisle without taking great care.

I found the play unsatisfying because while it traces the glorious history of the regiment, then about to be amalgamated with other Scottish units, the message to me was lost in a lot of the extensive physical action onstage, which featured much choreographed somersaulting and other motion. Also, I'm embarrassed to note that despite the many months Eileen and I spent in the U.K. some years ago, including some time in Scotland, I did miss a lot of the dialogue and punch lines owing to my inability to catch both the exact phrasing and probably some slang as well. To anyone who has spent time in the service, of course, the constant use of four-letter words is totally appropriate and accurate.

Turner got the Texas accent down well, I thought, and in general, I liked her performance as the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, totally irreverent Ivins. I first read Ivins in a Houston alternative paper in the early 70s when I went to Houston to do some legal work. She struck me as a comer likely to move right up and out from that limited platform--and so she did, on to the Houston Chronicle and then the New York Times--which under Abe Rosenthal, was not yet ready to allow her unfiltered prose into its strictly-edited columns--and thence on to national TV and syndication.

Again, however, as has been the case with too many one-actor bio shows--especially about subjects with whom I'm in sympathy--the play came up short.  It created a portrait of Ivins but it lacked that extra punch she always had in her writing and personal appearances.  Turner did everything she could, I felt, but she needed better material. Perhaps they might have included even more of Ivins's own stuff.

The ballgame turned out to be the best entertainment of the week,partly because the Nats managed to hold on to a lead and also because Teddy Roosevelt, perennial loser (526 times) in every fourth-inning Presidents Race--the four on Mt Rushmore are the competitors, won for the first time.  There have been plenty of Let Teddy Win banners at the park and during the last week, Teddy was the main promotional subject--the day I was there, they gave out Teddy pins.

Some suggested that this was challenging a jinx--baseball adores superstition.  Others said they should have kept it going and referred to Charles Schulz's assuring all Peanuts readers that Charlie Brown never was going to be allowed to kick the football. I suggest that it was appropriate for the last game of the regular season, since there's too much other sturm und drang when the post-season gets started. Maybe Teddy will go on another losing streak for a few months, days, or decades. 

It reminded me of another great losing record--that of the Red Klotz-led white teams who were the perennial victims of the Harlem Globetrotters.  They were usually, as it happened, dubbed the Washington Generals--and our current Wizards have but a slightly better record--or the Boston Shamrocks or Hawaiian Pineapples: as you can see, cliches were them. Their overall record against the Globies was something like 8-3,500. When a writer asked Klotz what it was like on one of those rare occasions when they beat the once- fabulously talented and still-beloved Globies, he answered: "It was as if they shot Santa Claus."

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