by Dick Kerekes
The Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) opened its spring production with Tom Ziegler’s comedy/drama Home Games. It will be on the stage at the Adele Grage Cultural Center, 716 Ocean Blvd, in Atlantic Beach until March 27th. For information call 249-7177 or visit their website at www.abettheatre.com.
Tom Ziegler’s Home Gamesdebuted in l989 and this is its North Florida premiere. ABET did another of Ziegler’s plays about 10 years ago called Grace & Glorie with Carson Merry Baillie and Michelle Phieffer.
The time is l985; the setting is a modest apartment in the crime ridden section of New York called Washington Heights. It is all our leading character Mertle Mae Tucker (Lisa La Grande) can afford on her clerical position while taking care of her brain damaged father Tony Tucker (Bob Shellenberger). You see Anton “Tony” Tucker thinks it is l955, and he is still a member of the New York Yankees as a 3rd or 4th string catcher who never gets to bat. He thinks his daughter Mert is Yankee manager Casey Stengel, the apartment is Yankee Stadium and the theatre audience are the fans in the stands. He talks to us, about the games and President Eisenhower’s health All day long he mainly wears a baseball uniform, waiting for “Casey” to come home to feed him a can of soup and maybe a Twinkie
Mert has enrolled in a night class in American Literature and one evening a stranger comes to call. Frank, a sharp dressing young man who is Mert’s age, arrives at the door with flowers and wants her to help him with their literature class, the only one he needs to get his degree and asks for her help to pass the class.
Frank comes over frequently to get her help and as you might guess falls in love (or lust?) with Mert, even though he is engaged to what he describes as an American beauty named Sharon who happens to be a control freak about times. Sharon schedules everything in writing, even the precise time to engage in sex, so no wonder Frank is turned on by the original and perky Mert.
Oh did mention, that when Tony meets Frank, he thinks he is Mickey Mantle? That makes for some interesting situations as well. A lot of the humor is in Act I, and is provided by the old man, and his baseball talk, although Mert’s blind cat PK, gets his share of the laughs, mainly because he is blind he rarely finds the kitty litter pan. Well, you get the idea.
Act II gets a bit more serious, the Yankees are playing poorly and Tony is depressed, and of course, still not playing. Frank and Mert have had apparently one wild night of sex, don’t worry we only hear about it, not see it. Frank wants Mert to get back into the trucking business like her father did before he lost it all and wants her to send Tony to a home so she can have a life of her own.
Does Mert ship old Tony off to a ritzy home because Frank, who comes from a rich family, can afford it. Does Mert stay true to her promise to always care for Tony as long as he lives? Will Frank and Mert resolve this large impasse and find true love. Will Frank pass the American Literature class? Such questions will be answered in the third scene of the second act of this two hour show.
The show was directed by award winning director, Rebecca Williams, who actually can do it all, choreography, acting, singing, dancing, set design and scenic art work. She has cast this show well and her direction has kept it interesting. Two people sitting on a couch a long time can get static, but not so here.
Anyone who has been doing community theatre for fifty years has earned the title of Old Pro, and indeed, Bob Shellenberger has been one of the most dependable and talented senior actors in this city, doing shows at all the venues including the Alhambra Dinner Theatre. My favorite Shellenberger role was the Major General at Players a few years back. He is marvelous as the old baseball player who was with the Yankees for one year and refused a trade to Cleveland because his wife was pregnant with his daughter Mert. Bob is a member of the Vintage Players, a senior acting troupe and all ways keeps his acting tuned by their twice a month performances.
Lisa LaGrande is delightful as Mert, a very selfless and loving person. She has to show a range of emotions in this role, from anger to compassion and she does them well. In one scene, Frank reaches over and touches her face and says “you are pretty”. He is absolutely right. Ms. LeGrande was in Othello at Players by the Sea and received a Pelican Nomination for her portrayal of Bianca.
Max Shuman as Frank is an up and coming young actor with a lot of potential. I have seen him in four shows locally , Buried Child, Biloxi Blues,Home on Deranged and Othello and I like the way he keeps stretching his talents into new areas. He is very believable in the role of Frank, which is a mix of comedy and drama and is very demanding.
Director Williams designed the set, and ABET’s small space made this a challenge. Putting Tony’s baseball adorned bedroom in the same room separated by a curtain worked well. Bryan Frank, the sound designer, selected music of the 80s and baseball themes to inspire us to think baseball. Andrew McCraney, on lights and sound, was right on time with the bird and cat cues (You didn’t think they had a REAL cat did you?) Yan Cumper did a fine job in her first time as a Stage Manager.
This play reminded me of the plays of the 70s and 80s, except for the bit of earthy language on occasion, so I probably would leave the kids at home. You don’t have to know a dog gone thing about baseball to enjoy this play. The acting is good and you will like it if you enjoy offbeat characters. As always thanks to the Tom Nehl Fund of the Community Foundation for your continued support.
HOME GAMES theatre review
by Dick Kerekes