Monday, October 24, 2011

Minneapolis Playwright Center

We had a smashing time at the Minneapolis Playwright Center on Saturday evening and I’m anxious to go there again sometime!
by Charlie Leck

Mat Smart’s play, Tinkers to Evers to Chance, is still in its infancy. I think it’s going to be a terrific work and it was fun to be in on the developmental stages of Smart’s writing. It’s based on the great double-play combination of the dead-ball era, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. They played for the Chicago Cubs at the West Side Grounds on the city’s north side.

These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

Francis Pierce Adams, a New York columnist, wrote the little ditty about the great legends of the game while he was on his way to the Polo Grounds. He needed “filler” for one of his columns. Little did he know his poem would be recited generations after he wrote it and that he’d make this trio of players so furiously famous and send them on to the Hall of Fame. These three guys were constant problems for the Giants ball club and Adams granted them even more acclaim with his poem. (They played together for the Cubbies from 1902 to 1912.)

Johnny Evers is one of the two central figures in Smart’s play. Smart makes him into a compelling character. The play has a time-warp that makes it impossible for Evers to have been around to really meet one of the other lead characters (he died in 1947 at the age of 65), but Smart is dealing with a grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter in this time-line and the audience has to be on its toes to keep up with the time-period swings. This is a problem that wouldn’t have happened had more actors been involved to help us identify various and changing characters.

We saw the presentation at the Minneapolis Playwright Center and all the parts were read by only two actors who, even though they had the scripts in hand and didn’t have the benefit of a full-fledged set, did an absolutely wonderful job.

Smart’s dialogue got a little tedious at points in the second of the two acts, but I don’t think that’s anything that he can’t work out and he gets the benefit of hearing reactions from the audience that watched the work in the lab setting.

I liked what I saw at the Center and, in one evening, I became a total fan and look forward to going back there again.

Here’s what goes on at the Playwright Center and this is its concept:
“Theatre begins here,” is what their tag line says and I guess it literally does. It’s much like a writer’s lab. A play writer can try things out in miniature or immature form and see if his work is making sense and receive constructive criticism.

“…It gives the nation’s most exciting writers the time and tools to develop new work for the stage! The Center’s Core Writers travel to Minneapolis from across the country to move their plays closer to production with the support of the finest dramaturgical minds in the nation, under the leadership of Resident Director Hayley Finn.”

Dramaturgical, ey! Now there’s a new word for me. I love new words!

And the crowd at the Center was new for us, too – and very enthused and spirited and excited about watching this embryonic work. The spirit of the place was neat and worked its way it our systems.

I’ll become a supporter of the Center and budget a few bucks for them next year. If you love alive theater, you might want to think about it also. Certainly you’ll want to get familiar with this place that works out of a cute, old church in south Minneapolis.

By the way, we had a wonderful dinner at a terrific restaurant before we went over to the Center and I recommend it enthusiastically. If you like Thai food, you’ll be pleased if you dine at True Thai on East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis (only four blocks or so from the Center itself).


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