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A CurtainUp Review
The Batting Cage in the Berkshires
By Elyse Sommer
The Batting Cage in NYC
It's never easy to lose a loved one announce the ads for the BTF production of The Batting Cage And it's never easy for a play that is first and foremost a comedy to keep the laughs from obscuring its serious underlying themes.
Theater being a collaborative effort, good actors and strong direction and staging can redeem even a play that's less than consistently funny and even less satisfying in delineating its non-comedic issues. This was borne out by Les Gutman's review of the play when it moved from its premiere at the prestigious Humana Festival to the Off-Broadway Vineyard. (see link). I had seen the play while it was still very much a work in progress at Joan Ackerman's own tiny Mixed Company venue in Great Barrington. The production values were minimal and the acting, at best, merely serviceable. The play Les reviewed was a different matter altogether. Beautifully staged, well-directed and blessed with two stellar performances. To use the baseball metaphor that defines the epiphany of one of the two sisters at the play's center, the experience was one of good hits (by the main actors) and poor field (the overall impression made by the play).
Having now revisited The Batting Cage at BTF's Main Stage, I can also say that, luckily for Ms. Ackerman, good productions and performances don't have to be one-hit wonders. Substitute the names of the director and the actors and everything in the Vineyard review (including plot details) applies here. Linda Gehringer, who's perhaps best known to many theater goers, for appearing on TV opposite Burt Reynolds in "Evening Shade" and Melissa Leo are well paired as the non-stop talkier Julianna and the near-catatonic Wilson. John Hawkinson's Bobby (plus assorted other men) is fine. The only changes from my original viewing in Great Barrington and this one seem to be some cuts towards the end -- which makes the mother's role even more of a Johnny-come-lately.
Mark Nelson, whose work I admired in the Drama Dept. revival of June Moon (by George F. Kaufman and Ring Lardner), ably steers the small ensemble through the highs and lows, allowing the actors to make the most of the nonverbal as well as the verbal humor. He is abetted by an able design team. Howard Binkly, who has proved his wizardry with theatrical lighting both On and Off Broadway has paid careful attention to the playwright's stage notes to "bring in a sense of the outdoors" and to give the play the "rich lighting and Florida sky it yearns for."
Because Ms. Ackerman has written a play that is a gift to its actors and which has enough laughs to make audiences forgive its flaws, The Batting Cage will probably have its fair share of regional productions. (A West Coast premiere at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, CA . is underway as this is being written). Too bad, that even when we have two heavy hitters on base, the play lacks the power to drive them home for the winning run.
The Batting Cage review to which this review is tied
Off the Map another play by Joan Ackerman, seen and reviewed in the Berkshires