Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Where Wednesday's Drama Was

More than once this year, when I avoided the halftime (sorry, intermission) restroom line at Redwood Curtain by heading for the men's room in the bar down the street, I stopped to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV, tempted to stick around for the outcome.  No matter how excellent the production was on stage, the immediacy and drama of baseball was compelling.

Then came the playoffs and it was hard to sit still at the theatre and pay attention, when I had my ipod-type device in my pocket, tuned to the radio station where the best announcing team in baseball was describing and explaining the action.  (This was before the ESPN radio automatons took over for the World Series.)

So it's no surprise that the biggest drama in town on Wednesday was anywhere even casual baseball fans were gathered to watch the seventh game of the World Series, and to see the Giants win it by the score of 3-2.

What stage drama could even compete?  One of the oldest pitchers to start a World Series game--a former great--doesn't get out of the second inning.  A middle-to-late reliever comes in to prevent further damage, with the aid of an excellent play by the shortstop and a brilliant play by the rookie second baseman with such a perfect baseball name that it had to have come out of the comics, or those baseball books by John R. Tunis and Joe Archibald I read as a kid: Joe Panik.

All of this is the first act warmup to the star's dramatic entrance.  After the Giants go up by a run, in comes 25 year old Madison Bumgarner, who started and won two previous games in this World Series, the second of them a complete game shutout just two days before.  And he does it again--though not without drama at a fever pitch in the last of the ninth: one of those errors by a usually reliable fielder puts a runner on third for the Kansas City Royals--the kind of portentous mishap that has led to legendary meltdowns at the last minute.

But no--with a 2-2 count, Bumgarner runs a pitch in that handcuffs the batter--he pops it up--third baseman Pablo Sandoval, himself a hitting hero of the postseason--squeezes it and falls to his knees.  And the Giants are world champions again: 2010, 2012, 2014.  Spooky.  And given this season, improbably.

What possibly could match that drama?  England's National Theatre doing three great Shakespeare's in a week, David Tennant does Hamlet, then Macbeth, and now it is up to the great but aging Olivier in Lear.  He gets through the opening scene but falters--suddenly Patrick Stewart has to rush on for the rest of the first act.  But he doesn't know the rest of the play, so with only two days rest, Tennant takes over--and the crowd is cheering at the end!  Or, wait, the crowd is in tears at the end!

No, not even that works.  Certainly there are plays and performances that are more rewarding and memorable than your average sporting event.  And as entertainment, sports offer a combination of immediacy and ritual than the theatre finds difficult to match.  On the other hand, I remember Joe Papp suggesting to me that when sports are providing the dramatic buzz, there's something wrong with theatre--it isn't making itself important enough to its times.

There are some things to be learned from sports that apply to making stage shows better, but probably not very many. Perhaps it's just different, but it also ought to be a bit humbling.

(And if you're interested in the Giants progress through this improbable postseason, I offer commentaries and links to professional reports at American Dash.)   So... congratulations to the World Champion San Francisco Giants!

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