October is the month of that annual rite of Americana, the major league baseball World Series. So perhaps it’s fitting that it’s also the month in which Anthony Clarvoe’s comedy Let’s Play Two is making its debut at southern California’s South Coast Repertory.
The new work by the busy, 31-year-old playwright marries the rhythms of baseball to the rituals of the contemporary mating game. Its players – late-twenties Phil and early-thirties Grace – bond at a friend’s wedding over mutual love of the Minnesota Twins, and find themselves facing more adult issues of commitment and responsibility as their friendship unfolds on a meandering road trip.
The play’s lightness-of-being is a departure for the San Francisco-raised playwright who moved to Minnesota a year ago. Clarvoe gained critical attention tackling computer industry greed with the black comedy Pick Up Ax, seen at South Coast Rep in 1990 and subsequently at a half-dozen other theatres across the country.
Since then he has explored life in London during the Great Plague in The Living, which will premiere at the Denver Center Theatre this fall; and examined a catastrophe involving a group of forensics investigators in Show and Tell, which bows later this year at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
A baseball encyclopedia
“I had just come off large, rather grim plays and had been looking forward to writing something other than an emotional wrench,” Clarvoe said during a recent working vacation in New Hampshire. “Let’s Play Two was a chance for me to have some fun, and to celebrate some of the things that I really enjoy, like baseball and car trips. There was a playfulness to the process of writing that was new for me.”
The fact that Let’s Play Two required no specialized knowledge beyond his own encyclopedic grasp of baseball presents a challenge of its own, Clarvoe says. “This is a play about very ordinary materials and very common occurrences. It’s scary to realize that many people in the audience are going to have at least as much experience in these matters as I do, and that there still must be some take on these things that they’ll find worth paying attention to.”
Clarvoe particularly relished the chance to depict a woman, Grace, who was as versed in the subtleties of baseball as any male counterpart. “The cliche is that men are the sports fans and that if women enjoy sports it’s some kind of groupie attraction. When I think of some women I know, nothing could be further from the truth.”
One group who’ll certainly be privy to the scads of baseball references are the folks at SCR (who are producing the play with underwriting help from American Express). “These people are intense San Francisco Giants fans,” Clarvoe confided. “During the 1989 championship series between the Giants and Cubs, we’d go straight from rehearsals of Pick Up Ax to find a TV set so we could watch the game.”
For director Michael Bloom, a baseball buff himself, the challenge lies in negotiating the network of cinematic changes that whisk the play’s action from place to place without pause: in one breath the couple are viewing a Twins game on television; in the next, they’re at the baseball park; suddenly, without moving, they’re on the road.
“Finding the theatrical equivalent of film transitions is not an easy trick,” Bloom ventures. “And scenically, developing a set that works for the play is an enormous job” (which will be shouldered by designer John Iacovelli).
Although the play is buoyant next to other Clarvoe plays, director Bloom – who guided another SCR premiere Donald Margulies’s 1991 Sight Unseen, to a long engagement in New York – warns against dismissing it as a mindless romantic comedy. “This is a comedy by a serious playwright, who deals with an issue that’s on a lot of peoples minds – the nature of commitment, what it involves, what its positive value are.”