20 November 2008

In Which I Defend Itamar Moses' Honor, In a Way I Hope Is Not Too Pushy

[Previously in this series: In Which I Get a Little Love Lettery to Itamar Moses, In a Way I Hope Is Not Weird]

The problem with Charles Isherwood's review of Back Back Back, aside from him disagreeing with me, is that he's obviously looking for a docudrama about steroids in professional baseball. It's a shame that he wasn't able to see the subtle and complicated exploration of trust, admiration, and betrayal that the play actually is.

At one point I was the number two Google search result for "Itamar Moses," and my history with the dude and his writing is pretty well-documented. But I'd heard some rough things about Back Back Back, so I went in last night without any lofty expectations. A nice open mind.

Verdict: This play is wonderful. Sometimes people complain that Itamar is self-indulgent, or just wants to show us how smart he is. Here's the thing - Itamar is smart. It's gonna show. He's really freaking smart, and really interested in ideas and stories and weird little corners of history. Know what that makes for? Smart, interesting plays.

Well, okay, that wouldn't automatically make for smart, interesting plays, but he's also a fantastic writer. His dialogue is bright and energetic, and I've always found his characters complex and compelling. I think I've probably teared up at every one of his plays.

Back Back Back doesn't have some of the other Itamar trademarks - it's not very meta or winky (save for one really funny joke near the end), and the structure is mostly straightforward, nine scenes in chronological order. (Okay, nine scenes like nine innings - a bit of a structural wink.) But it uses its plot framework - steroids and baseball - as a way into a bigger, or deeper, meditation. Just like Bach at Leipzig was simultaneously about the history and the idea of making art, and The Four of Us was about a specific story and about the ideas of striving and friendship, Back Back Back is about baseball and steroids, but also about the ideas and feelings that pervade (but are not limited to) the scandal, in a profound way.

We have three characters - the gung-ho steroids user, the conflicted star player, and the innocent rookie (also an effective stand-in for the betrayed fan) - but each is more complicated than that. There's no good guy or bad guy, nothing simple or clear-cut. Each scene we see the characters struggle to do what's right, or at least figure out what the hell that is. In the last few scenes the play solidly centers in on the betrayal the fans felt - betrayed by the strike, then by the doping - but while that's a narrowing of focus, it's also what broadens the play's impact, speaking to something beyond a few dozen atheletes with syringes. Single lines became loaded with layers of meaning, simultaneously holding the character's conflictedness and contradictions, the larger implications of the scandal, and a metaphorical connection to the trust that goes along with adoration, the vulnerability we allow ourselves to demonstrate when we love someone and trust what they say.

I wasn't madly in love with the design of the production - if you're going from 1988 to 1992, you don't need to scroll "1989, 1990, 1991," as I am familiar with how this calendar system works - but the direction and performances were fantastic. Actor namecheck!: Michael Mosley, Jeremy Davidson, James Martinez. Google yourselves, guys. You all kick ass.

So here's how you're gonna get tickets:
-->If you are under 30, you should definitely sign up for MTC's 30 Under 30 program, which gets you $30 tickets to MTC productions.
-->Student tickets are $25 and are available, based on availability, the day of the show, up to one hour before show time. Call 212.581.1212 for more information.
-->For anyone, student or not, young or old, you can use discount code BBX to get $35 tickets if you buy before December 7th.

I really loved this show, and really hate when one misanthrope at a fancy paper stops people from even looking at a show that has a ton of merit, and in this case is funny, interesting, and, if you're a baby like me, quite moving. Go!

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