note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Caroline Burlingham Ellis
Special to Theater Mirror
An audience member departing “The Savior of the Fenway” after the final bows was heard to remark, “I thought it was going to be a play about the Red Sox. But it was still good.”
The action in the play, which won the 2003 New York International Fringe Festival excellence in playwriting award, does center around Red Sox passions, but the heartbreak that the team represents to many New Englanders is primarily a metaphor here.
The play takes place in a Quincy bar. The roar of the Fenway crowd is heard on the television as three Sox fans are transfixed in the blue light of a set mounted in the audience. On the walls are Red Sox memorabilia, electric beer signs, a “Spitting Prohibited” sign and a dartboard with a picture of a Yankees player. Broken glass litters the floor by the jukebox.
Seething with disappointment over the second-to-last playoff game with New York are bar owner Walshie (played by the show’s producer, Nate Meyer), Walshie’s assistant, who had a promising college baseball career until his father died (young Patty Lentz, played by John Highsmith), and red-headed construction worker Sweeney (Joe Burch). Between rants against umpires and other enemies, we learn that Sweeney hates Patty because Patty’s brother is cozy with the wife of Sweeney’s best friend, Shane. Meanwhile Shane (performed by “Fenway” playwright Brendon Bates) is roaring and crashing around in the bathroom, his post-game “decompression chamber,” and Walshie is worried about getting him out of the bar before someone gets hurt.
These are characters who pour all their blighted longings into the Red Sox and who suffer the torments of the damned when the team loses. Everything that troubles them is seen through the prism of the Red Sox. When, for example, Sweeney is forced to recognize that Shane’s wife probably doesn’t wear sunglasses indoors just to cover eye shadow, a look of pain passes over his face and he shouts, “Those f-ing umpires!”
Sweeney and Shane see the wealthy and effete taking over the world and pushing them out. Sweeney almost believes Shane’s conspiracy theories about the new Sox owners. Those yuppies are only pretending they will preserve Fenway stadium, Shane says. Really, they are going to tear it down – and with it the whole way of life of people like those who hang out at Walshie’s. He thinks of the Fenway as hallowed ground, the “field where men become gods.”
Shane is loved by his buddies, but he’s a violent guy. He talks about bumping off the owners of the team and going to live alone in the mountains of Maine. Breaking things makes him feel he is “doing something constructive.” Sometimes he hurts himself “to see if I still feel,” he says. He doesn’t know how to change, doesn’t really want to. When Walshie warns him off cigarettes saying, “Those things’ll kill you,” Shane retorts, “Yeah, that’s the plan.”
You can’t help feeling sorry for these guys. Other than maybe someday seeing the Red Sox win against the Yankees in Fenway Park, they have no hope. Not even friendship can shelter them. “Once you make friends with the wrong people,” Walshie warns Patty, “you’re screwed.” As loyal as Walshie is to his friends, he realizes that the good that sometimes shines through them is probably never going to win. In fact, when Shane says to him, “Good always triumphs in the end no matter how many f-ed-up things [people have] done in their life,” the statement falls into a long, sad silence between them.
Directed by Michael D. Laibson and performed with fierce energy by Bates, Burch, Highsmith and Meyer, the play is thought-provoking and honest. The emotional and physical violence and the strong language that are essential for realism preclude the play from being a take-me-out-to-the-ballgame outing for young families but could help bring youth-adult audiences back to the theater, especially if “The Savior of the Fenway” is promoted differently. Unlike characters in ten-minute plays about the Red Sox that have graced the Boston Theater Marathon, these characters are seen as more than baseball fans. This is not really a play about the Red Sox.
Josh Zangen designed the set, Jennifer Schriever the lighting and Drew Levy the sound. Dorothy Fucito was stage manager. “The Savior of the Fenway” runs through May 30 in the new theater space at the Cambridge YMCA, 820 Massachusetts Ave. The small midweek turnout might have been boosted had there been a poster or sandwich board in front of the YMCA. One had to know in advance there was a play going on in order to find it.
For further information, see www.savioroffenway.com