note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Sweeney … Joe Burch
Patty … John Highsmith
Walshie … Nate Meyer
Shane … Brendon Bates
When it came to choosing sides for high-school baseball I was always the kid who was picked last yet I enjoyed Brendon Bates’ award-winning THE SAVIOR OF FENWAY on the grounds that it’s a good, solid little play --- on the night I attended, the score was ACTORS: 4, AUDIENCE: 5, which is a pity and a disgrace; it deserves to become better known.
Mr. Bates sets his play in a working-class bar in Quincy, Massachusetts --- the type of bar where everybody not only knows your name but who’s screwing your old lady --- where four die-hard Red Sox fans suffer through yet another World’s Series defeat. These men drink, bicker, smash things, threaten each other, bond and are oddly endearing. Just as Thomas Eakins lovingly painted his sister as the squat, homely woman that she was, Mr. Bates presents his quartet with great affection but without a drop of varnish; his characters go over the top --- and often --- but remain true to life, passing from rowdy comedy to near-tragedy and back again with breathtaking ease (there are more mood swings here than there are in MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL); some audience members might exclaim, “Oh, my God, I know guys like that!”; others, simply, “Oh, my God!”. Mr. Bates is at his best evoking the boozy milieu where a World Series win is yearned-for compensation for an unfulfilled life and where a beer belly is considered more manly than a gym-based physique and he offers four well-drawn characters with surprising contrasts: Shane (played by Mr. Bates, himself), the most physically violent, trashes anything and everything but always pays for the damage; Sweeney, the most verbally violent, is Shane’s squire, nursemaid, what-have-you and is squeamish about using clean towels to mop up blood; Patty, the junior bartender, smokes clove cigarettes and works on his abs but knows how to defend himself with a bat or a rifle; and, especially, Walshie, the endlessly patient bartender who must ride these raging bulls night after night. Mr. Bates is less steady in his monologues which are stitched in, not blended, with the give-and-take ensembles; the longer a soloist holds the stage, the shorter the suspension of disbelief --- after awhile, one wonders is that called-for taxi ever gonna show or realizes that a buddy in the bathroom is taking the longest crap on record. (A handgun is all too obviously “planted”; Mr. Bates would have done better to have it simply discovered in and of itself.) But Mr. Bates has a “voice” and I look forward to hearing it, again --- he can definitely roar; now, can he whisper?
This production is the third time around with the same director and cast and the results are seamless and well-orchestrated with four primal actors riding on each other’s mouthy energy, especially Nate Meyer’s sad-faced Walshie who lowered his standards to fit his clientele and must make the most noise in order to keep the peace; Mr. Meyer has a lovely drunken moment where he mops the grubby floor out of instinct, the body lagging behind the will. Michael D. Laibson directs with a sure, Chekhovian touch: the characters are rarely still --- someone is always doing something --- but their actions are grounded in character and never exist for mere movement’s sake, and Josh Zangen has designed a gloriously tawdry set where you can almost smell cherry-bombs wafting from the bathroom.
THE SAVIOR OF FENWAY is one of the year’s best new plays --- a home run, if I must reach for the obvious. It could easily become a Boston institution, with a revolving cast of actors, should a local producer take a crack at it. As long as the Curse continues, THE SAVIOR OF FENWAY is timeless; it could run forever.