The Kitchen Theatre Company has opened another play that speaks to our times. Director M. Bevin O’Gara’s vision of offering plays that speak to social issues continues with Brawler, a world premiere by Walt McGough, that puts the spotlight on pro sports and the toll it takes on the athletes, a subject that seems to be talked about daily in the news.
Brawler is a one-act in two scenes. There are four characters, all involved most of the time.
Adam is the brawler, played by Greg Maraio, the member of the team designated to protect the more skilled players by any means possible within the bounds of the rules. This includes being extremely rough and taking a lot of physical abuse. It is noted that the brawler has been eliminated from the NHL for the very reasons brought to light in this play. To deal with all the pain and injury, Adam takes a lot of painkillers, and even plays high to get through. He was one of the fiercest players in the NHL, but was demoted to the minors, while his best buddy Odie, played by Anthony Goes, remains in the majors.
The play takes place in the locker room of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Locker room. In the first scene we see that it’s been trashed. There is a short intro that is like a montage of hockey play, where Adam and Odie pantomime their roles on the ice. This sets up the relationship between the brawler and the star that he protects. Thereafter the story unfolds.
We find amid the broken benches and other objects Adam’s girlfriend, Trisha, played by Gigi Watson, and Jerry, a referee and Adam’s friend, played by Marc Pierre. They are trying to make sense of what happened while attempting to coax Adam from the off-stage shower room and talk him down. Adam wants his bag, which when dropped spills many bottles of prescription drugs. Trisha and Jerry are not sure how to handle the scene and have called Odie, who watched the game, to come and help.
Odie shows up and Adam enters the room in full uniform. He has an agenda. An ominous cell phone message from Adam is discovered – he suggests his end is near. But not before one final fight with Odie, who himself is suffering from injuries on the ice. Odie decks Adam signifying Adams end – just what he was wanting – his final knockdown proving to himself that he is done.
The second scene is after Adam’s suicide and in the same locker room before his memorial service. Odie is to give a speech. There is much regret and discomfort.
According to program notes, the play reflects the Sophocles play, Ajax, where Ajax, the victorious warrior, is denied the reward given to Odysseus instead, and after being duped by Athena, impales himself on his own sword.
That aside, the main point is that professional athletes, at their own expense for the love of the game and the fans, sacrifice their own health and sometimes lives, and how we adore our sports heroes and push them to the brink. Quoting O’Gara from a press release, “We are raising questions about culpability and how we, both as individuals and a society, enable our heroes. We are investigating the brutality of turning a blind eye.”
This play was developed in a partnership with Boston Playwrights’ Theater employing the same cast and design team, giving the author the ability to work and revise the play in a collaborative effort.
Every aspect of the play is on point – direction, acting and scenery. Many tense and dramatic moments. Only the occasional ironic, chuckle provoking line for relief.
Brawler runs April 8–22, 2018. The Kitchen Theatre Company performs at The Percy Browning Performance Space: 417 W. State/MLK, Jr. St. Ithaca, NY 14850. For tickets contact The Kitchen online at kitchentheatre.org/tickets.html
By phone at (607) 272-0570. In person Monday-Friday, 10:00 AM-6:00 PM at the Kitchen offices (409 W. State St.) and Saturday-Sunday, 12:00-4:00 PM at the theater.