by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
OPCT presented an original production of Jennifer Latka’s “Dugout Therapy” on stage December 9, 10, and 11. The production was not part of the regular season but rather one of three fundraising projects for building a new deck and handicapped accessible ramps.
Director Vicki Lowe wears several volunteer hats for OPCT, including Chairman of Fund Raising. To make the event possible, she teamed up with playwright Latka who wanted to mount a production of her new play.
This opportunity came up rather suddenly and as a result, the cast of eight had only five days of stage rehearsal because the OPTC stage was in use with other scheduled productions. The actors learned their lines at home; they did a remarkable job and were very sharp with their dialogue in this somewhat wordy play.
The setting for “Dugout Therapy” is a waterfront condominium in St. Petersburg, Florida, the home of Walter (Stephen Lowe), a thirty-something former professional baseball player who is down in the dumps and out of sorts because he is out of professional baseball. A collection of self-help books given to him by his concerned mom (Ellen Hare) is stacked on a table. A subplot includes a planned birthday party for grandfather Poppy, played with gusto by Stan Mesnick.
Walter’s outspoken sister Wanda (Kendra Eaton) drops by to plan the birthday dinner and to discuss his emotional problems, as well as her own. She feels her life is also missing something, and that they’re both “messed up.”
Walter has had it with reading self-help books and has taken the Next Step by hiring a Life Coach to help him sort things out in the person of Georgie Braun (Connie Senkowski). She arrives with pad and pen in hand, eager to help him analyze his issues and plan a new course of action. She’s nervous and a little flighty; life coaching is a new venture for her and Walter is her first client.
Vanessa (Elise Carlson), Walter’s live-in girlfriend, is enamored with baseball and baseball players and loves wearing bikinis that show off her gorgeous body. Unaware that Walter already has a Life Coach, Vanessa has hired the suave Evan (Steve McMahon) who arrives to meet his new client; unlike Georgie, he has had years of experience as a successful Life Coach. After the unconventional Poppy arrives in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts and everyone gets to know everyone else, they go off in a rented limo to eat at a fancy Italian restaurant.
As the play progresses, things change. Girl friend Vanessa shows up after a walk on the beach with still another therapist, the charismatic Scott (Tim DeBorde), well-known author of self-help books, including one of the books Walter had been using. Curiously, Scott and Georgie attended the same college, and he was her former boyfriend!
Wanda and Evan have developed a romantic interest in each other. Walter and Georgie are no longer patient and therapist; they too are now friends with romance in their eyes. The play has humor throughout. Poppy’s “dirty old man” dialogue got a lot of laughs and the audience found Scott’s bombastic rhetoric very funny as well.
The play used the basic set of OPTC’s previous show, with some simple alterations by Technical Director David Wells and his crew. With Walter’s love of baseball, we would have liked seeing a framed photo of him in his uniform hung prominently on the wall.
In talking with the playwright after the show she indicated that having seen a full production, she has some revisions in mind. May we offer a few suggestions?
The audience needs to know more about Walter’s baseball career. He is in his thirties, so how long had he played? Who did he play for, was his contract not renewed or was he fired and if so why. Did he lose his confidence and did his batting average slump? In order to for the audience to sympathize with his plight, we need to know more about him.
The first act was an hour and ten minutes long, and since most of the action takes place on a couch in center stage, the dialogue needs to be edited and tightened up.
With only five days of rehearsal , Director Lowe’s main concern was getting the cast to learn all the lines (which they did admirably), but there was no time to work bits of business into stage movements and blocking. In Act I, there is too much of just standing up and sitting down by Georgie and Walter. Some stage directions could be added giving Walter things to do while engaged in conversation with Georgie, like going over and sitting at the table and eating some of the grapes seen there, or perhaps offering her a beverage and walking to the kitchen to get it.
The play contains some earthy language; one word was used by more than one character that many theatregoers find objectionable. These words were jarring and unnecessary in the context of the play, which is intended as a light-hearted romantic comedy.
“Dugout Therapy” has a lot of potential as a comedy that has several interesting character roles and relationships intertwined with complications. We though the acting was exceptionally good considering the short rehearsal period. We thank playwright Jennifer Latka for making this new work available.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM