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Back Back Back
By Elyse Sommer
For all its insider references to the game and some of its tarnished stars (e.g. Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds), however, Back Back Back can be enjoyed without an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball or its iconic names. Its three characters happen to be baseball players whose involvement with enhancement drugs is basically a metaphor for the disillusioning and moral unfitness that's hardly limited to sports figures. Many Wall Streeters, guided by the greed is good mantra of the 80s, sniffed coke to sustain and enhance their performance, just as athletes used steroids to pump up their muscles. Business and political leaders have continued to often behave in dishonorable and illegal ways that short circuit the American value system. The current economic crisis is an extreme example of these moral fault lines
Like Itamar Moses two previous plays, Back Back Back, is entertaining and involving, with dialogue that, besides its already mentioned authenticity, sparkles with quick wit. However, despite its beneath the surface subtext, this is ultimately less a memorably major league play than one memorably performed by Jeremy Davidson, James Martinez and Michael Mosley; and effectively staged by Daniel Aukin, the former artistic director of Soho Rep, the off-off-Broadway venue that is known as a magnet for hip, young audiences. Judging from the audience at the performance I attended, many of his Soho Rep fans were there to see his work further uptown.
As Bach in Leipzig (which I liked a lot better than some other critics) had a fugue-like structure that was compatible with its musical subject matter, so Back Back Back is organized into nine scenes similar to the nine innings of a baseball game. In between these theatrical innings, a neon marque shades of the Times Square news ticker or a Jenny Holzer installation, sends the passing years scrolling by and stops at the scene we are about to witness.
The game's first stop is in 1984 at the Olympic Village in Southern California where Kent (Davidson), wearing a Team USA baseball uniform, addresses the press. The play includes several other such press conferences featuring Raul (Martinez) and Adam (Mosley) at the microphone. The ninth and final " inning" finds Kent and Raul, in business suits instead of team uniforms, in a room of the United States Capitol, waiting to give testimony to the committee investigating the use of steroids by major league players. Eleven years have passed since Raul and Kent's first encounter in their Southern California team's Weight Room. Their always tenuous relationship is now fraught with hostility prompted by Raul's tell-all memoir, making Raul the obvious standin for Jose Canseco who actually wrote two memoirs, the first and most controversial being Juiced which blew the lid off the steroid use among baseball players.
The playwright has created three well delineated characters whose lives are linked by their careers in major league baseball. Each has a distinct personality that is fully realized by its actor-interpreter. Martinez has the showiest role as the cocky Latino who is the one who supplies his teammates with that extra game winning insurance via muscle pumping steroids. He's the play's nominal villain. As played by Martinez, he's also the one who delivers the play's most incisive and funny home run moments, though Kent adds his own ironic humor when he tells Raul that his second wife is a pharmaceuticals representative. Without giving too much of the plot away, Raul also exemplifies the old saw about things not always being what they seem, and that you may end up realizing that one of his victims may well be more of a villain than he is.
Director Aukin has succeeded in creating an atmospheric production without showy production values. David Zinn has provided just enough props to evoke the various locations. I'm no expert on team uniforms but Zinn's various team uniforms look like the real article. While a movie would no doubt include some crowd scenes, the missing images are effectively evoked by Ryan Rumery and Daniel Baker's sound design.
The title's most obvious baseball connection refers to that moment when the batter hits the ball into the outfield and it goes so far back that the outfielder has to go "back back back." Result: a home run.
Will plays like Back Back Back make a difference in restoring baseball to its status as the Great American Pastime and its players the sort of heroes kids in the Little Leagues can look up to? Probably no more than those Congressional hearings did.
Links to reviews of other plays by itamar Moses:
The Four of Us
Bach At Leipzig