Musical comedy revues often conjure up a chicken-and-egg question for me. What came first? A bunch of songs around which someone concocted a theme, or a theme about which someone wrote some songs. To my way of thinking, the latter is almost invariably more satisfying.
This brand-new revue, happily, falls in the satisfying category. It has a well-thought-out premise, some awfully good songs, funny if sometimes appropriately cornball jokes and an excellent, entertaining structure. It even comes close to having a story. Especially for anyone with even a vague sense of nostalgia for baseball as America's pastime, it's a great way to spend an evening -- and it'll never get rained out.
Because of its short run, I reviewed Baseball, Sex and Other Facts of Life at the first performance open to the press. This revealed some facts of life that were not intended (missed cues, flubbed lines and so on), but these no doubt will be repaired. It also runs long at two and one-half hours and has a few bits that don't fit in and need to be cut. (For the record, the most egregious example is the play's lengthy, irrelevant and energy-sapping penultimate scene, entitled "Clash of Champions".) Over time, one can hope these, too, will be fixed, because the show has a lot of promise, and easily could be fine-tuned into a popular success.
The principal conflict, between baseball and sex, is introduced quickly. Sometimes it's a battle of the sexes; other times, it's not. Gayden Wren has done a remarkable job of fleshing out almost every imaginable variation on this theme. There are several funny takes on the invention of both baseball and sex, and the unavoidable relationship between the two.
We learn lots of differences between sex and baseball along the way. (In the former, you try not to catch anything; in the latter, umpires tell you if you're safe; and so on.) People seem to grow up with different ideas about baseball and sex: some of us don't know a thing about baseball; others don't care about sex. And some children grow up thinking baseball is dirty because every time their parents go in the bedroom and lock the door, they turn on the baseball game really loud.
Sex and baseball also have a big, if less obvious, role in advertising. Scenes are punctuated by exceptionally clever TV commercials. Two series of these are particularly good: one featuring Blitz Beer's line of products (their light beer has less calories because they only fill the bottles part way), and another featuring a baseball player whose downward career trajectory (from Atlanta to Minnesota to a small town, etc.) parallels his endorsement deals (Cadillac to Buick to Suburu, and ultimately to used cars).
The more-than-earnest cast has fine, interesting voices and good comic instincts. The show's half dozen songs are its highlights, ranging from an excellent umpires' song (it could become a dugout classic) by the three men (Todd Faulkner, Mark Fitzgerald and Joel Liestman) and a very good beer commercial featuring the three women (Elissa Groh, Jennifer Hein and Rosalyn McGlore). Hein's solo paean to Don Mattingly is also a standout. Both musically and lyrically, the songs are outstanding, never veering into the predictable drivel that constitutes the mainstay of so many small revues.
Wren has staged the production well, if with too much complexity for the capablilities of the current stage and crew. The set design is as clever as the show, but seems to suffer under its own weight. In this day of stylized sets and cinematic staging, this simple revue harkens back to an earlier time, when set logistics could get in the way of dramatic flow.
For all its flaws, Baseball, Sex & Other Facts of Lifeis a smart, well-crafted, fun evening -- with one strikeout, a few foul balls, but plenty of hits and even a home run or two.
|BASEBALL, SEX & OTHER FACTS OF LIFE
by Gayden Wren and Paul V. Patanella
Directed by Gayden Wren
with Todd Faulkner, Mark Fitzgerald, Elissa Groh, Jennifer Hein, Joel Liestman and Rosalyn McClore
Set Design by Daniel Z. S. Jagendorf
Costume Design by Rica Miriam Wasser de Sola Mendes-Barry
Lighting Design by Janette Kennedy
The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street (718/ 834-9662) -
Reviewed by Les Gutman May 8, 1998