The Double Play's the Thing

[Summer Guide] The sweet science and the ol' ballgame dominate the theater's sports-themed lineup

Two other boxing plays of considerable merit include Oliver Mayer’s 1992 Blade to the Heat, a gritty, bloody exploration of racism and homophobia in late 1950s boxing, and Rod Serling’s 1956 teleplay, Requiem for a Heavyweight, which starred Jack Palance as a punch-drunk boxer. Both Palance and Serling were former boxers, and their personal experience with the subject resulted in one of the finest made-for-TV dramas ever written, earning Serling a Peabody Award and helping to establish his reputation in Hollywood.

Along with The Great White Hope, the only other sports-themed play to win a Pulitzer was That Championship Season, Jason Miller’s 1972 drama about a 20-year reunion of four players from a state-winning basketball team with their coach, who is dying of cancer.

Basketball also factors into one of the few plays about women in sports: Shooting Stars, Molly Newman’s 1988 account of a group of Harlem Globetrotters-like traveling female basketball players in the early 1960s.

Swingin' for the Fences
Henry DiRocco/SCR
Swingin' for the Fences
What the hell? Damn Yankees  returns this summer
Nina Welch
What the hell? Damn Yankees returns this summer

There have also been plays about rugby (David Storey’s 1972 The Changing Room), horse racing (Mary Fengar Gail’s 2007 Devil Dog Six), ice skating (Kander & Ebb’s panned 1984 musical Rink), marathon running (Israel Horovitz’ 1982 The Great Labor Day Classic), chess (the 1986 ABBA co-created musical Chess) and even tennis. Remember the bit about tennis balls early in Shakespeare’s Henry V?In an insulting move, the French king delivers a bunch of them as a gift to Henry; it’s the final insult that sparks the Hundred Years War between England and France.

But no account of sports and theater is complete without mentioning Arthur Kopit’s 1962 send-up of Russian master Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard: The Day the Whores Came to Play Tennis, in which six men at an elite private country club must gird themselves against the onslaught of six farting women.

Oh, and then there’s that play about sports that came out of Orange County: Rube! The centerpiece of the highly successful Orange County Theater Festival in the summer of 2004, it’s the only play I know of that was written up in the sports columns of both the Los Angeles Times (T.J. Simers) and The Orange County Register (Randy Youngman). It was a heavily fictionalized look at the life of turn-of-the-20th-Century baseball player Rube Waddell as told through the eyes of the man commissioned to unravel his mystery: legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice. Featuring a host of other historical personalities ranging from muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell to the villainous Ty Cobb, the play was . . . what’s that? I can’t mention Rube!? Why’s that? Oh, I wrote it. . . . Damn.

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