Review: All-American (Redtwist Theatre)

| August 7, 2013
Bryce Gangel and Andrew J. Pond star in Redtwist Theatre's "All-American" by Julia Brownell, directed by Scott Weinstein. (photo credit: Jan Ellen Graves)        
      
All-American

Written by Julia Brownell
Directed by Scott Weinstein
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru Sept 9  |  tickets: $15-$20   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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Football comedy-drama scores, but falls short of complete victory

     

Bryce Gangel, Annie Sauter and Matt Edmonds star in Redtwist Theatre's "All-American" by Julia Brownell, directed by Scott Weinstein. (photo credit: Jan Ellen Graves)

    
Redtwist Theatre presents
    
All-American

Review by John Olson

Katie Slattery is a 16-year-old girl playing quarterback on the boy’s football team at a private school in Palo Alto, California. Her Dad, a former NFL quarterback, decided to move the family up there from Pasadena so Katie could play for a better team and get the sort of national attention that would lead to a college scholarship (preferably USC) and ultimately a career in the pros (“maybe not the NFL, maybe the CFL or Europe” her father Mike muses). In real life, girls have broken that barrier in high school sports. A girl named Erin DiMeglio played quarterback for her Florida high school last year and several girls have played on men’s teams at the college level (though, in my research, as kickers, not as quarterbacks, and not at a Division I-A school like USC). No women have yet played in the pros, to my knowledge, so Mike’s dreams for his daughter are lofty indeed Surprisingly, the play doesn’t acknowledge the gender barriers in the way of Matt Edmonds and Kimberly Logan star in Redtwist Theatre's "All-American" by Julia Brownell, directed by Scott Weinstein. (photo credit: Jan Ellen Graves)Katie making it to USC let alone the NFL. Katie’s gender could actually be switched to male and it would play without too many changes to the script, because this is really more of a story about parenting and family relationships than gender roles.

Mike is consumed by football. Retired seven years from the NFL, he’s written a book called “Football is Life” and it certainly has been his, even at the expense of the time he’s spent with the family. Besides his declining career as a motivational speaker, Katie’s career has become his sole purpose in life, so if we describe the play as another story of parents living their dreams through their children – dreams not necessarily shared by the children in question – the premise starts to sound more familiar, doesn’t it? Maybe playwright Julia Brownell – a young writer who’s written for high profile TV series like NBC’s “Smash” and HBO’s “Hung” – made Katie a girl to distract us from the familiarity of that theme. In a clever twist, though, Brownell has given Katie (Bryce Gangel) a twin brother, Aaron (Matt Edmonds) who’s a bit of an underachieving stoner and a rather clever smart-ass. Though Aaron couldn’t care less about football or school, he does care about Katie and sees that she’s not really into the sport the way her dad is and has gotten more interested in boys and dating. Mom Beth (Kimberly Logan), who’s done most of the parenting due to Mike’s frequent absences, has started a new career as a real-estate agent. Still sexy at age 42, she’s vivacious and sharp tongued with a biting wit that she’s clearly passed on to Aaron.

The sports-consumed world of the Slatterys feels authentic – they toss around stats and names from football history with ease and such frequency that even disinterested Aaron absorbs it (“I live in this house and I can hear,” he explains when asked why he knows so much about football). Though I believe their story of a family exceptional for the sports fame of the father, Brownell doesn’t tell me enough of how their lives might resonate with ours. The direction by Scott Weinstein and the performances by the cast are all crisp and entertaining, but Brownell doesn’t give us quite enough of their humanity to help us identify and care sufficiently about them. As Mike, Andrew J. Pond captures the macho bravado you’d expect from an ex-quarterback. He sees himself as the leader, always in control, but we don’t really get beneath the surface to get at his soul. This is crucial because it’s his career and his nature that has defined the family and sets up the conflicts of the play (will Katie continue to play football and will Mike and Beth’s marriage survive in light of their disagreement as to whether or not to have more children?). What does Mike really need and why is he unable to move his life in a new direction beyond football? We aren’t given any reasons, so it’s hard to see Mike as much more than a jock buffoon. We’re told a little more about Katie, but given her importance to the action, she doesn’t have a lot of stage time and we don’t get into her mind fully enough to identify with her. Mother Beth is given a full backstory – after a moderately wild youth, she married young and then was virtually a single mom during Mike’s road trips with his team. She’s just now coming into her own as a person. Fair enough, but Brownell’s written her in a way that makes her seem abrasive and selfish rather than sympathetic. In her pursuit of her new career she frequently loses sight of the other family members.

Matt Edmonds and Annie Sauter star in Redtwist Theatre's "All-American" by Julia Brownell, directed by Scott Weinstein. (photo credit: Jan Ellen Graves) Bryce Gangel and Andrew J. Pond star in Redtwist Theatre's "All-American" by Julia Brownell, directed by Scott Weinstein. (photo credit: Jan Ellen Graves)
Andrew J. Pond and Kimberly Logan in Redtwist Theatre's "All-American" by Julia Brownell, directed by Scott Weinstein. (photo credit: Jan Ellen Graves) Bryce Gangel and Andrew J. Pond in Redtwist Theatre's "All-American" by Julia Brownell, directed by Scott Weinstein. (photo credit: Jan Ellen Graves)

The Slattery we spend the most time with, and get to like the best, is Aaron. He’s smart, kind and funny – even though his caustic tongue gets a little wearying after a while. Matt Edmonds plays him honestly, as does Annie Sauter as his would-be misfit girlfriend Natasha. Aaron, though, is a surrogate for the audience – we see the other family members through his eyes – he’s not the one making the journey. We hope he’s going to somehow find himself but right now he’s on a path to nowhere. Though we want something better for him, how it’s going to happen is not a part of this story and that’s unsettling given that he’s the one with whom we most connect.

Brownell does have a great way with dialogue. The script is frequently funny and the plot strands are tied up neatly at the end. A 2008 MFA graduate of New York University who has had commissions and productions of her plays by leading non-profits like Lincoln Center (who did All-American in 2011), McCarter Theater in Princeton, the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and The Public Theater – she’s clearly a talent to watch. Her skill shows through – Mike, Aaron and Beth seem real even if not always sympathetic – and her unexpected twists help to divert us from the fact that the themes of this play are really nothing new even as they’re brought into a contemporary setting. We’re certain to see more from this promising young talent and we can thank Redtwist for giving All-American its Chicago premiere.

All-American is part of Redtwist’s new off-night series called More Red and is performed in rep with The Beautiful Dark on Dan Stratton’s set for that show.

  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

All-American continues through September 9th at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map), with performances Saturdays at 3pm, Sundays and Mondays at 7:30pm.  Tickets are $20 ($15 for seniors/students), and are available by phone (773-728-7529) or online at BuzzOnStage.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Redtwist.org(Running time: 90 minutes, NO intermission)

Andrew J. Pond, Michael Bartz and Matt Edmonds in Redtwist Theatre's "All-American" by Julia Brownell, directed by Scott Weinstein. (photo credit: Jan Ellen Graves)

Photos by Jan Ellen Graves


     

artists

cast

Bryce Gangel (Katie), Andrew J. Pond (Mike), Matt Edmonds (Aaron), Annie Sauter (Natasha), Kimberly Logan (Beth), Michael Bartz (Jake)

behind the scenes

Scott Weinstein (director), Garvin Jellison (lighting design), Olivia Leah Baker (costumes design), Daniel Carlyon (sound design), Daryl Blalock (stage manager), Will Allan (football coach and consultant), Jessie Chappe (casting director), Jeff Shields (props design), Jan Ellen Graves (co-producer, photos, graphic design, marketing), Charles Bonilla (box office manager), E. Malcolm Martinez  (box office associate), Jonny Garcia (box office associate, associate producer), Michael Colucci (co-producer)

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Category: 2013 Reviews, John Olson, Redtwist Theatre

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