Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Winning Streak Strikes Out at George Street
The story is a familiar one. Ryland (Brennan Brown), who appears to be in his mid to late thirties, was conceived during a one night stand. He has never had any contact with his absent father, Omar (Dan Lauria). Having recently decided that he wants to meet Omar, Ry has journeyed far to an unidentified city (in the Midwest, according to the program; Omar's "fan-aticism" for its last place team suggests Chicago) where Omar lives. In seven scenes set at various locations and occurring over a period of three weeks, we witness their relationship evolve from their first meeting at a cocktail bar to an unconvincing epiphany for both during an argument in a city plaza.
Omar is very parsimonious in parceling out details of his background. Ryland, an art restorer, has for dimly conceivable reasons manufactured a story about his personal life and his motivation for wanting to meet Omar. The real reason is to enable the author to unleash in the play's final scene arbitrary revelations concerning (not very dramatic) problems in Ryland's life. The device will be obvious to experienced theatergoers early on.
Omar is a retired major league baseball umpire, whose all consuming, sole interest is baseball. A totally self-centered, self-serving man-child, he is repulsive and unappealing. Curmudgeon would be too kind a word to describe him. However, despite his cold and rejecting attitude toward Ry, Blessing would have us know that deep down Omar is a hurt soul wanting to bond with his son.
You see, shall I say, the Cubbies are in the midst of a potentially record-breaking winning streak. Omar states that he credits the streak to Ry's presence in his life. Therefore, he conditions continuing to meet with and reveal information to Ry on the latter's promise not to leave him before The Winning Streak ends.
The 90-minute, one-act play proceeds at a pace which makes it feel more like the period of three weeks during which it elapses as we learn precious little about Omar and Ryland. What we learn is unsurprising and of little interest. Are you surprised to hear that Omar was beaten by his drunkard father and then deserted serially by each of his parents? Does it justify him being such a miserable SOB?
Blessing, whose considerable skills are far more apparent in other plays, includes a fair measure of humorous dialogue, but it is as contrived as the play itself, failing to provide much pleasure as it appears to arise from Blessing's attempts to amuse us rather than from the characters who give them voice.
Most disturbing of all is the sheer arbitrariness of Ryland's filial attitude toward Omar. Blessing has not provided a smidgeon of a reason for an audience to find it believable.
The production, directed by Lucie Tiberghien, is competent, but fails to rise above the limitations inherent in the writing. Dan Lauria brings more charm to the role of Omar than there is in the text, but cannot disguise the artificiality of both the dialogue and the character. Brennan Brown is natural and likeable as Ryland, but does not provide the motivation that is so lacking in the script.
Revolving to provide differing angles for each scene, Sarah L. Lambert's adequate non-specific open set consists of a few platforms separated by two sets of steps. It is augmented by a painted rear curtain of a cloudy sky, some lighting effects (by Tom Sturge), and props specific to each of the play's locales.
Author Lee Blessing appears to have created a play conforming to an outline that he would present to the students in a basic playwriting class. It seems clear that both Blessing and George Street are just marking time with The Winning Streak.
The Winning Streak continues performances through January 30, 2005 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901; box office: 732-246-7717; online www.GSPonline.org.
The Winning Streak by Lee Blessing; directed by Lucie Tiberghien