Bleacher Bums: Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., May 19, 2000
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Hyde Park Theatre,
through May 27
Running Time: 1 hr, 40 min
A friend once opined that anyone who had any interest in the baseball season before September must be crazy. Which might explain the characters in Bleacher Bums, the comedy about a certain somewhat disreputable section of the bleachers at Wrigley Field; they are a hilarious mix of crazies, running the gamut from conniving to desperate to addicted to oblivious to just plain nuts. A gang of longtime bleacher creatures, plus several newcomers, engage in some standard and not-so-standard activities while attending a Chicago Cubs baseball game, but betting is what really links them in their ivy-covered nest overlooking the outfield.
Now, for anyone who doesn't know, the Chicago Cubs are perennial losers. Which gives your average Cubs fan an ill-serving hopefulness in the face of disaster. And makes bleachers full of hardcore fans, all believing that this time it's their turn to win, a betting man's nirvana, full of easy marks just waiting to be fleeced.
And so it is for betting man Marvin, played with alternating chill, smarm, and deep-rooted misanthropy by David Jones. The Cubs' unfailing self-destruction mirrors that of his marks, most of them willing to place favorable-odds bets with mean Marvin, only to see him whisk their money away, all while adding vicious insults to fiscal injury. They'll bet on anything: Will the next batter reach? Will this one score? Will the Cubs climb back from 3-0 after only a few innings? Only Decker -- an amiable, white knight-like Eric Peterson -- has the money to cover the big bets and can keep up with nasty Marvin. But Decker also bets with his heart, unwisely yet proudly supporting his atrocious team. Pride comes in other, more boisterous forms, too: Joey Hood plays the Cheerleader, wearing Cubs colors on his naked torso, conducting section-wide chants of support for the home team, pouring derision on the visiting Cardinals. Hood is outstanding as the chaotic, malicious jumping bean of a fan gone too far. At the other extreme, a (mostly) tranquil Judson L. Jones makes blind fan Greg a wise and wisecracking character with a fabulously told fantasy that brings the house down.
While everyone in this ensemble of nine (of course) is brilliant, Greg Gondek must be given extra bases, uh, kudos for his flawless characterization of the complete schlemiel, Richie, on hand as Decker's score keeper, although even this relatively simple task is beyond him. Richie's defection, rise, fall, and redemption, mark the play's major turning points, and Gondek throws strikes at each bit; Richie may be hilariously out of sync, but Gondek has extraordinary control over every nuance of his character.
Character coaching is one of director Ken Webster's great strengths in this Subterranean Theatre Company production. He gets wonderful, natural performances from his entire team, while ratcheting up the play's humor -- and its tension -- to unbelievable degrees. This is the fourth time he's directed this play (though it is Richard Fire's latest revision, updated to keep the unseen, on-field characters current), and Webster's work has the zing of a confident fastball pitcher, blowing away all comers. The only notable fault in this near-perfect game is the way Bill McMillin's otherwise fine lights unnecessarily fade down on occasion to highlight one or another part of the bleachers. It's a day game at Wrigley and the gang's action never tones down when the lights shift, so why do it? Think of it as a passing cloud on a glorious day of yet another late-inning cave-in by the home team.
It may be too early for most of us to really care about the baseball season, but time is running out to catch Bleacher Bums in its hilarious, mad glory. Take yourself out to this ballgame and bet on having a great time.