The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting the world premiere of Jim Provenzano's sports drama, PINS. The NCTC commissioned the San Francisco sportswriter to adapt his acclaimed novel of the same name for the stage to celebrate Gay Games 2002. The play is set in the world of high school wrestling and is about homophobia in athletics.
PINS takes place in 1993 in Little Falls, New Jersey, and its central character is Joey Nicci, a nice fifteen year old Italian-American boy whose family transfers from the mean streets of Newark to a middle class suburb. Joey also has to transfer from a Catholic school to a public school in the new town. The young lightweight lad wants to fit in so he joins the high school varsity wrestling team and proves his worth on the mat.
Joey has several deep secrets. He has homosexual feelings which he keeps well hidden even to the point of chastising an openly gay school student who wants to be Joey's friend. Joey has another secret - he has a strong attraction to fellow wrestler Dirk, who is also Catholic. Both realize their feelings one night during a sleepover at Dirk’s house. Here, the plot of PINS suddenly changes from all things bright and beautiful to lives being torn apart by violence, murder, media and a court trial. The first act is very well constructed with Joey and Dirk fulfilling their sexuality. The second act deals with the homophobic murder of the outwardly gay student. The scenes of the aftermath including media coverage, the jailing of Dirk, the court travails and the new identity of Joey as a gay teen go by so fast the focus of the play becomes lost.
Joey becomes a Person in Need of Supervision, a problem juvenile (hence the acronym PINS, also a reference to the wrestling term). The dramatic focus of the play seems to dissipate. This is not helped by a monologue about the Catholic martyr St. Sebastian which is brought into the play and has little relevance to the story. PINS is not a sensationalized pot boiler about teenage sex but a story about loners and adolescent homosexuality. The drama tone is sad and dark but very interesting.
The predominately male cast and one female are exceptional in their roles. They make the characters real, and each is loaded with depth. Outstanding is Nick Tagas as Joey Nicci. This young talented actor made a splash in the NCTC’s production of Shakespeare’s R & J, and now he holds center stage as the genuinely smart boy with a good upbringing in conflict about his emergent sexuality. Nick is cute and affable and has moving warmth as he addresses the audience about his problems. He also has the New Jersey accent down pat.
Los Angeles actor Brett A. Holland is excellent as Dirk, and he reminds me of a young Rocky. His accent is right on the mark. Michael Anthony is able to transform himself into a 10 year old brother of Joey and then become various other characters in this drama. The gay baiting wrestling team leaders are well played by Eric Herzog and Matthew Vierling. Nate Levine is very good as the openly gay student and his older brother and gives a good account of him in the monologue on St. Sebastian. Mitchell Lee Marks is fine as the understanding father of Joey and the non-judgmental coach of the team. John Dravinksi rounds out the male cast in various roles, and he does a creditable job with each character.
The loan female cast member, Megan Towle, is not only very pretty but a very talented young actress. She is amazing in the roles of Joey’s mother, Dirk’s sophisticated mother and a concerned youth counselor. She immerses herself into each of these roles, showing the wide range of her talents.
Stephen Rupsch’s direction is very appealing. His swift scene changes are right on the mark; there is never a dull space between scenes. Jim Provenzano helped in setting up the wrestling scenes which are first rate. The author was a college wrestler and also won a bronze medal in the 1998 Gay Games. Set designer Rob Vogt has made the small theater into an arena with the audience sitting on three sides looking down on blue wrestling mats, a few benches and beat-up red metal lockers.
PINS runs through October 13 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. Also playing at the center are Confessions of a Mormon Boy and My Dinner with Luntique Fantastique.