nytheatre.com review by Jane Titus
February 5, 2010
Playing Cricket is a new play by Andrew Bauer. The main action of the play revolves around two professors who are competing to write a paper that will be used by the head of the department. The one whose paper is chosen will continue at the university and the other will be asked to leave. All the scenes take place in the research library of said university department. The librarian / graduate student who seems to run the library is the title character of the play. Cricket is friends with one professor and does not seem to care for the other. So, he decides to "help out" in his own way. This leads to some complications. By the last scene, Cricket has finally been played.
The acting company is strong; everyone is very well cast. Nic Tyler very ably captures the loose jointed spirit of Cricket, the perennial student. He at times delivers his lines with a delicate irony that speaks volumes. Richard Brundage is exceptional in the role of the slightly neurotic professor who is obsessed with not offending anyone. His playing of the role was masterful. Tom Bateman as the other professor has the right touch of a competitive intellectual obsessed with getting the position to move the show forward. Gabriel Sloyer is appealing and easy in the role of a new graduate student. Ronald Guttman is all that you would want as the egomaniacal department head, corrupt with power and pitiless. Jessica Chazen as the manipulative sex kitten is entirely believable and charming. Brynne Kraynak as the hungry grad student looking for recognition is spot on and Elizabeth Bove as the world-weary wife of the department head hits the right knowing and resigned note for the character. An intriguing and strongly done turn comes form Afton Boggiano as Aida—the mysterious Lorelei of the university.
The direction by Eleanor Dyl keeps the show moving along at a very good pace and the scenes are all nicely shaped. The costume and set design are enough to suggest the college and the characters without being intrusive.
The conversation in the script scintillates at times—buoyant and sparkling. Then there are times when the scenes and dialogue seem to wander into the horse latitudes and become becalmed. But this does not last long—soon the play picks back up and continue on. This happened a few times in evening and left me wondering what had occurred or not occurred to create the lull.
Underneath the wit and humor of the play, there seems to be a dark realm lurking. The academic world presented by Playing Cricket is constantly paralleled to the corporate world, as if an educational institution is a reflection of corporate life. Academia is portrayed as a place of ruthless competition that is based not on academic merit but personal preference and political positioning. No one seems to have any sense of what scholarship is or to value it. The most brilliant character in the play has no idea that he's brilliant. The most successful student achieved her success through blackmail, not intelligence and academic excellence. Mediocrity seems to win out by the end of the play, providing a rather subdued sort of resolution to the story.
Overall the piece is a comedy. It is full of intelligent wit. Undergirding this world is a cynical view of academia and human nature that I believe is resonant in our zeitgeist. All in all, it is an entertaining evening in the theatre. Especially if you enjoy irony and wit.