By D. A. Blackburn
Much like attending a championship game, going to a world premiere play is an occasion charged with a unique and palpable electricity. And just as the experience is heightened when it’s your home-town team competing, there’s a special feeling associated with seeing a fresh work written by a talented local actor. This is precisely the case with The Purple Rose Theatre Company’s latest premiere, “Bleeding Red” by Michael Brian Ogden, which fuses sport and theater for a tale about the pitfalls of love.
Ogden’s script follows three friends – fans, all, of the Liverpool Reds Football Club – as they fall in and out of love, with their team and their byrds. Bobby (Matthew Gwynn) has just been dumped by his fiancee Liz (Stacie Hadgikosti). His best mates, Tommy (Ogden) and Vinnie (Matthew David), however, have no intention of letting him mope. The Reds are in their first championship game in 21 years, and the boys have a superstitious regimen that must be completed to ensure victory. But realizing that Bobby is not willing to budge, his friends are forced to enlist the help of his sister – and Tommy’s ex – Sarah (Heidi Bennett) to put things in perspective, and remind him what’s really important: football.
For a freshman effort, Ogden’s script is fairly well polished, except for a few minor issues. And the PRTC has given the work a stage and cast befitting a firmly established production.
Ogden’s dialogue is clever, if occasionally too wordy to seem truly conversational, particularly in the first act. But this issue is completely resolved after the intermission, as the playwright has given his lead character the occupation of English teacher (a fact established in the second act) as a cover for his uncanny eloquence.
There are a few other issues in the script that feel slightly under-developed – an English lawyer attending an American law school, for instance – but by and large the work is structurally sound.
Many of the work’s funniest moments come from the physical performances of its three male leads, and in this respect, all three excel. David, particularly, makes a strong showing with hilarious (and taxing) dance moves and some clever falls.
The cast would probably benefit from a little time with a dialect coach. Though Ogden is in fine form and accent as Tommy, other cast members are not as poised, and occasionally retreat to their native tongues as their intensity levels escalate. But even this doesn’t really hold “Bleeding Red” back. The young cast is still extremely likable and fun to watch.
Vincent Mountain’s sets and Danna Segrest’s properties are superb, and the production is satisfying in all other design respects. Guy Sanville’s direction is also quite good, making excellent use of the stage and keeping the work moving at a brisk clip.
For his first play, “Bleeding Red” is a decidedly strong showing for Ogden, leaving the impression that there are many fine productions still to come from his pen. He’s done an admirable job distilling the complex, but universal emotions of love – of both sport and romance – into a cohesive and witty play, and the result is both unique and genuinely entertaining.
The Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park St., Chelsea. Wednesday-Sunday through May 30. $25-$38. 734-433-7782. http://www.purplerosetheatre.org