By D. A. Blackburn
Friday night, as the Chicago White Sox dealt the Detroit Tigers a heartbreaking 2-0 loss, the University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company opened a fresh production, steeped in the superstitions of fall baseball. For Tigers fans and patrons attending Lee Blessing’s “The Winning Streak” alike, the evening yielded a disappointing result. But, in both cases, there were good performances to behold.
“The Winning Streak” opens the Theatre Company’s 39th season just as Major League Baseball draws to its regular season close. Both, however, are set against a backdrop of changing leaves and chilly air. Though Tiger fans have seen lots of fall baseball over the years, UDM’s production marks the first opportunity for area theatergoers to take in the “Streak.”
At its core, Blessing’s script is far more about troubled relationships than baseball, but it’s the game that provides the underlying motivation of the work’s drama – and its best writing. Blessing’s conversational dialogue and mystical overtures about the sport are entertaining and engrossing, but his approach to the meatier subject matter of a father/son relationship is formulaic and uninspired.
The plot, simply, is boy meets estranged father, animosity ensues, a relationship is built, then nearly lost, and the work climaxes with a hug – drivel that’s hardly more memorable or exciting than a mid-season rain-out. Worse still, it’s a work that leaves many reoccurring plot devices hanging in the balance, without clear resolution or thorough explanation.
Despite the script’s flaws, director Arthur J. Beer, his cast of two, and the production staff have given the show a strong line-up. Like the mighty Casey, “The Winning Streak” steps to the plate with every intention of hitting the ball deep to win the game, but goes down swinging.
The stage (Melinda Pacha) is Spartan, but attractive. The show’s lighting (Mark Choinski) is elegantly simple. And the production’s sound design, owing much to Steven Ploe, is a walk-off home run.
David L. Regal and Joel Frazee, as Omar (father) and Ry (son) respectively, are sluggers. Regal, as he’s often proved in past productions, is at ease in the role of elderly curmudgeon. And though it’s a character-type familiar to him, he manages to make Omar feel entirely fresh, with wonderful physical expression and a satisfying air of sarcastic hostility.
Frazee’s performance is the theatrical equivalent of the Tigers’ rookie pitcher Eddie Bonine’s near six innings of flawless pitching Friday night. He delivers an excellent range of emotion, from tender to hateful and back again – at its best when it culminates in a fury of anger. It’s particularly noteworthy considering the production’s shallow script. This, I suspect, is a clear reflection on the team’s skipper, Beer.
‘The Winning Streak’
UDM Theatre Company at Marygrove College Theatre, 8425 W. McNichols Road, Detroit.
Through Oct. 11. $15. 313-993-3270