Saturday, February 06, 2010

Playing Cricket

For the last eight years, Cricket (Nic Tyler) has been loitering in an ivy tower, refusing to finish his philological dissertation. It's more comfortable cracking wise from the comfort of a librarianship than to face the consequences of the real world, even if that means young graduates like Raoul (Gabriel Sloyer) and aged department heads like Professor Stumpf (Ronald Guttman) get to openly mock him. Besides, it leaves him free to ogle girls like the silent Aida (Afton Boggiano), and especially ones like Debra (Jessica Chazen), who will let you do a whole lot more than ogle--if you'll give them an A. It also leaves him free to help mild-mannered academics like George Hobson (Richard Burndage) not only get the girl--Karen (Brynne Kraynak)--but to best wily rivals like Mr. Fergeson (Tom Bateman). But playwright Andrew Bauer has made Playing Cricket as unfortunately aimless as Cricket, Eleonore Dyl's direction is as by-the-books bland as a lecture, and both the costumes and actors are generally as dry and dusty as the school's run-down library.

At a student-faculty dinner, Stumpf decides to lecture on the difference between saying something and meaning something, thereby demonstrating the very nature of what he's talking about. In fact, Bauer fills his script with scenes just as inexplicable as this one, in which characters will talk in a way that neither informs the plot nor reveals anything about the character. If Bauer was aiming for sophistication, he settled for sophistry. Bauer has so little to say, in fact, that one of his characters doesn't speak. She's not mute, she just apparently chooses not to. The most direct character is Mrs. Stumpf (Elizabeth Bove), who makes it clear that she doesn't approve of Debra's extracurricular affairs with her husband, but then again, Mrs. Stumpf also spends an entire scene second-guessing Raoul. Although she has no reason for doing so, save for playing the cranky old lady card, to her credit, we learn so little about Raoul that her initiative at least seems merited.

If Playing Cricket is in any way original, it is only because--like the big dissertation on a ninth-century sequel to Beowulf that Cricket convinces Mr. Fergeson to write--there is nothing worth plagiarizing in it. As for the acting, it's quite telling that the last-minute replacement to the cast, Mr. Guttman (who was understandably on book) was the finest part of it. The show earns a summa cum laude, but it's for failing--out of an online university.

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