Good sports

This review appeared, originally, in Our Community Online.

Football fans know one thing for sure – a pick six, the surprise interception that results in an instant six points, is the equivalent of a bases loaded home run for baseball fans. The world premiere of Between the Tackles, which opened last weekend at Burnsville’s Parkway Playhouse, is clearly a pick six, both in terms of fast paced acting and of gut wrenching humor. But Britt Kaufmann and Stephanie Stark Poling’s new football-themed play is much more than a hilarious story about three diehard football fans — it is a story of love and loss, of friendship and childhood ties that can and should never be severed.

Acted superbly by five Parkway Playhouse veterans who throw out side splitting lines faster than the audience can catch its collective breath, the play tells the story of three childhood friends who, now as adults, still share two things in common — the love of watching their favorite team on television and the pang of what being an adult can mean.

Elliot (played by Paul Trani who was last seen on the Parkway stage as Rooster in the 2010 production of Annie), learns early in the story that his girlfriend (played by Anna C. Franklin) is about to have a baby. Happy as he is about the news, with one failed marriage behind him he wonders how this is going to work out, given his close attachment to his boyhood friends and their time-consuming love of all things football.

Mark, played by Parkway Artistic Director Andrew Gall, learns through his long-distance girlfriend (also played by Franklin) that her office in Florida is interested in offering him a lucrative job — so lucrative he goes out and buys an 80-inch flat screen TV on which to watch the games with his buddies, even though he doesn’t have the job yet. Although undecided about the move, fearing telling his friends he may be leaving them, the good news is that the job is in Florida, home of the upcoming Super Bowl that their team may qualify for.

Ryan, played by Jeff Messer, a playwright himself now celebrating his ninth season at the Playhouse, is the settled “adult” among the group. With two children and a wife (also played by Franklin) — who would like a third child but lets her ever-practical husband talk her out of it — Ryan is dealing with his own loss when he learns of Mark’s job offer. Throughout most of the play he is clearly in denial, adding pathos and a softer bit of humor to the storyline when his wife urges him to face his feelings.

Franklin, fresh from this season’s equally hilarious Mama Wont’ Fly, ties the play together. She takes on multiple roles as wife, girlfriend, expectant mother, bar maid and pizza lady. She gracefully acts as the foil for the macho bravado of the three tightly knit friends.

Of course, no story about televised sports would be complete without an announcer. Doug Shaw, who played most recently in Outlander and Big River, keeps the action rolling with play by play calls that often infuriate the three friends who (along with Mark’s girlfriend, Jesse) are hilariously animated sports fans. These four, with the announcer appearing through a dimly lit broadcast booth in the background,  engage the television set (which is really the audience) in a constant stream of rapid fire and subtly-written wit that covers topics poking fun at vegetarians, microbrews, texting, excessive celebration on the field, pickup lines, birthers, meat eaters, GPS devices, overly-popular movies such as Star Wars, and a whole host of other current issues that richly deserve Kaufmann’s barbs.

The playwrights themselves are no strangers to Burnsville’s literary life. Kaufmann is a published poet and essayist. Her first play, An Uncivil Union: The Battle of Burnsville, a romantic comedy set in the middle of actual historical events, premiered at the Playhouse last summer. Much of the football wit was tested first on Stark-Poling, a Playhouse veteran as well as a self-admitted “fanatically irrational” sports fan who helped Kaufmann to successfully create the characters and story line.

Directed by Michael Lilly, Between the Tackles runs through Oct. 6. More details and ticket information here.


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