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A CurtainUp Review
Runt of the Litter
By Macey Levin
original review by Macey Levin
The world of the professional football player is a foreign society to those who dwell outside it, as is the world of the actor or the teacher or the bricklayer. It has its own codes of behavior and definitions of relationships and responsibilities.
Bo Eason, who played in the National Football League for four years, offers a peek into an athlete's life in his semi-autobiographical, one-man play Runt of the Litter, currently at the MCC Theater. Eason, who also performs the piece, sets the play in a locker room just before the Super Bowl is about to kick off. A somewhat melodramatic key to the drama of the game is that Jack Henry, who plays a defensive position, will face the best quarterback in the league-his brother.
The observations about his evolution into a pro player are, at first, delivered with a light tone, as is his description of his teammates, the game itself and his role on the field. An abundance of blatant pop psychology is readily spewed throughout the piece. His brother Charlie is the gifted one while he, younger and shorter than his sibling, has always had to work hard to achieve his successes, thus "the runt of the litter." Their workaholic father and alcoholic mother always lovingly referred to the boys as "the best," inculcating within him the seeds of self-destruction. For 20 years, the Henrys unknowingly nurture a tragedy.
On this Sunday Jack reflects on the events that have created this moment. While donning his uniform, his voice and demeanor assume a religious intensity as he intones, "You're never more alone. You're never closer to God." The work darkens and he prepares to enter the gladiatorial arena. Eason's descriptions of the sensations he feels slamming into his opponents are painful and exhilarating. His discipline and devotion to his profession are admirable and ugly. He tells his teammates, "He's my brother by blood. You are my brothers by bloodshed." He may be giving us insights into a private world, but he is also exciting the violent aspirations of Sunday afternoon/Monday night fanatics.
As an actor, Eason is amiable and intense, looking somewhat like a young Cliff Robertson. At times, however, his line readings sound as if they are being recited rather than coming from an internal character; occasionally he stresses the wrong word in a sentence lending it an artificial air. He fails to capture the differences in personalities as he adopts the roles of the various characters. The delineation is minimal. We know who they are, but they do not possess individuality. But when he leaves the biographical material and celebrates the "glory of the game," he is more animated and real.
Eason's warm, vibrant personality and depth of experience as a pro player compensate for the shallowness of the work. Though not an accomplished storyteller, the insights into the world he occupied for four years are knowing and revealing. Eason demonstrates an ear for dialogue, but some of it is pushed into a configuration rather than having a natural fluidity.
Director Larry Moss has mounted the production intelligently within the confines of the script. He creates a pleasant rapport between actor and audience that draws us into the world of the athlete and holds our attention. The transition from the lighter two-thirds of the work to the darker finale is rapid but effective.
The play would be theatrically stronger if the characters were more genuine. As it is, they sometimes simply fulfill the writer's needs rather than function realistically. The thematic ideas are worthy. Considering the vast number of pro football's rabid devotees, the play may be saying something about our country which celebrates a game as violent and ritualistic as the one Jack Henry reveres.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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