Bleacher Bums | Hydeware Theatre

The play, conceived by Joe Mantegna and written by members of The Organic Theatre, follows the action of a Chicago Cubs–St. Louis Cardinals game at Wrigley Field from the perspective of the folks in the cheap seats—the bleacher bums.

 

Bleacher Bums | Hydeware Theatre

Conceived by Joe Mantegna
Written by Roberta Custer,
Richard Fire, Dennis Franz, Stuart Gordon, Joe Mantegna, Josephine Paoletti, Dennis Paoli, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Michael Saad, Keith Szarabajka and Ian Williams
Directed by
Rich
ard Strelinger
Through June 3, 2006

 

Before I say a thing about Bleacher Bums, I should offer the following disclaimer: I am not a baseball fan, and I know nothing about betting. So, given that Hydeware Theatre’s latest production revolves around both those subjects, you’d think it would have no appeal for me.

You’d be wrong, though. Bleacher Bums—directed by Richard Strelinger—is a fun, light comedy about America’s favorite pastime. The play, conceived by Joe Mantegna and written by members of The Organic Theatre, follows the action of a Chicago Cubs–St. Louis Cardinals game at Wrigley Field from the perspective of the folks in the cheap seats—the bleacher bums. As play begins, several of the spectators start making bets on who’ll win. There’s Decker, a pseudo-professional gambler played with put-upon charm by Matthew Korinko. Decker’s rooting for the Cubs, like most of his friends. He’s the good guy, and the focal point of the play, but without overshadowing the other performers who follow his lead. They include Zig, played by Ken Haller (who’s in danger of getting stereotyped as Hydeware’s resident grumpy old guy), and Greg, a blind spectator played convincingly by Brian Claussen, who loves to give the play-by-play as long as someone will tell him what’s happening on the field.

Decker makes a wager with another spectator, Marvin, who bets the Cards will win—not out of any love of the Redbirds, but because he just knows the Cubs are going to lose. It doesn’t matter whether he’s a fan or not; he’s just in it for the money, and G.P. Hunsaker plays him as the slick, greasy bad guy, the Benedict Arnold of the bleachers, while the rest of the motley crew keeps the faith in their home team and, by extension, in each other. Over the course of nine innings, the play ponders the nature of loyalty and friendship while delivering a lot of laughs.

Clearly, the performers are having a ball with this play. Standouts include Margeau Baue Steinau—who seems at times to be channeling Valerie Harper’s “Rhoda”—as Rose, Zig’s wife, who shows up at the ballpark to keep Zig from gambling away more of their money; it becomes clear she knows just as much about the game, if not more, than her husband, and when she gets caught up in the excitement of the day, she has a change of tune. The portrayal works, and she has good chemistry with Haller. Another part that works is Nicholas Kelly’s hilarious turn as the nameless Cubs fan who irritates and then energizes the bleacher bums with his rabid fanaticism.

Bryan Hyde’s set design is simple but effective. The audience, of course—the real audience, not the onstage bleacher crowd—doesn’t see the game in progress or the players on the field, but the ensemble, apart from a few mistimings, cleverly conveys the on-field action, helped along by sound effects and the offstage announcer’s voice, in such a way that you can’t help but get caught up in it and start to root, root, root for the home team.

Hydeware Theatre continues Joe Mantegna’s Bleacher Bums through June 3 at The Black Box Theatre at COCA (524 Trinity Ave., University City). Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 students/seniors. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or through any MetroTix outlet (314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com). For more information, visit www.hydewaretheatre.com.

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