See it!Talk about the timing being a little off.
The inescapable topic in the River City all month has been basketball.
And what’s on stage at Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre? A play about baseball, wouldn’t you know?
It’s the sort of miscue that’s worthy of the Chicago Cubs—the lovable losers from Wrigley Field, who haven’t been to the World Series since 1945, and haven’t won since 1908. Now there’s consistency.
Truth be told, the charm and mystique of the Cubs—whose fans perpetually adore them, even after decades of booting the Big One—is central to Bleacher Bums, an ensemble piece that was conceived by Joe Mantegna and written by the Organic Theatre Company in the late 1970s (subsequently refitted with references to the late 1990s).
It’s not so much a conventional play as a slice of life, as an assortment of colorful and enjoyable characters—several beer-sipping gamblers, two energetic young female cheerleaders, an attractive (and lightly dressed) woman who’s working on her suntan, a blind guy (who apparently enjoys the sunshine and crowd experience), etc.—sit together in the bleachers during a game in which the Cubs face off against their great Midwestern rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Like a real baseball game, there’s a lot of conversation—and since these are working-class people from Chicago and Cub fans besides, the talk runs the gamut from boastful humor to raunchy, rambunctious needling. Need one add that there’s a bit of fun with messy beverages that get spilled?
The show isn’t plot-driven in the usual sense; the rhythms are set by the game on the field—something that we in the theater audience never see, but the cast manages to convince us that it’s really going on. (Tangible support is lent in this regard by Vince Hancock of Capital Public Radio, who pinch-hits in this show as the Wrigley Field announcer, in addition to providing an effective sound design with lots of background noises from a game.)
Much of the action in the bleachers revolves around the cigar-chomping Zig (Jon Beaver), a compulsive gambler whose long-suffering wife Rose (Cathy Rasmussen) tracks him down to try to keep him from throwing away money by betting on the hapless Cubs. He’s matched with another Cub fan named Decker (Michael Miller, who also directs), and the more cynical Marvin (Jerry Sullivan), who’s cheering for the Cards and always urging the others to place larger bets.
The supporting members of the cast put in good work individually, and the show sustains a sort of pleasant, ambient glow, rather like the Real Thing. It’s not a triumph of high art, but it’s a generous serving of Americana—and a nice change of pace on the part of Garbeau’s. Those looking for a pleasant evening with a baseball theme will find what they’re looking for in this nicely enjoyable community effort.