by Beki Pineda
SMALL BALL – Book and Lyrics by Mickle Maher; Music by Merel van Dijk and Anthony Barilla; Directed by Jessica Jackson. Produced by The Catamounts (presented at the Buntport Theatre, 717 Lipan, Denver) through November 20. Tickets available at thecatamounts.org.
Here’s your assignment: Write a play with music that is – on the surface, at least – about basketball. But make it funny. And deep. Small cast. One set. Now – GO!!
How would you like to be faced with that challenge? But Mickle Maher faced it and conquered it as evidenced by the opening night of SMALL BALL. But he had to tuck in a few other things just for giggles.
Here’s where we start. All of the mythical kingdoms of literature have suddenly been discovered to be real and have been living off the grid lo these many years. Narnia – Oz – Middle Earth – Lilliput – once discovered by Gulliver – remember? So all of these “new” countries have a mutual interest in – you guessed it! – basketball. They are currently in the middle of the first global tournament. But the Lilliputian Existers have a small – well, for them a large – problem. Their hired human-sized superstar Michael Jordan (not that Michael Jordan)( played by Orlanders Jones) won’t pass the normal-sized ball for fear of hurting his tiny teammates. What’s a coach to do??
And so it goes from there. We meet the frustrated coach Phil Jackson (Jordan Leigh) played with haggard eyes and defeated shoulders. Coach’s wife, Ms. Horton (Diana Dresser) who took the name of the elephant in the Dr. Seuss book because she feels deeply the sense of not being seen because they are so small … and therefore inconsequential. She’s also a mathematician who discovers the number 5 and its importance to a basketball team. Also playing are Michael’s eager teammates – Bird (Maggie Tisdale), Pippin (Zayaz De Camara) and Magic (Richard Cadwallader). The last player is Lily, Coach’s daughter (Heidi Snider) who takes a very special interest in Michael and why he won’t pass the ball. She also comes up with her own solution to the problem in spite of their difference in size.
This is all played out in the context of a press conference for a sports program called “That Seems A Little Unlikely” moderated by reporters Mark Collins and Sonia Justi. Do you begin to see what you are in for? It all makes a crazy kind of sense as you are watching it. Tucked down inside all the sight gags and giggles is a subtle message about overcoming differences and invisibility. it’s in there but it doesn’t whack you over the head. You’re having too much fun watching to take it too seriously.
If any cast could make this complicated script work, it’s this team. Orlanders plays a kind of bored and “don’t bother me” Jordan, his feet up on the desk and a book in his hand. Until Lily – Heidi Snider – breaks through his outer crust and finds his heart. She brings a casual but caring authenticity to her role as the peacemaker. The teammates dressed in tired (what looks like) hand me down uniforms are eager to play and to please – whatever that means. The villain of the piece is Pippin brought to ferocious life by a haughty angry Zayaz De Camara whose solution for the stubborn Jordan is to shoot him in the face with (tiny) poison arrows. Diana Dresser dresses up the stage every time she comes on with her intense belief that mathematics can solve this problem just like it solves every other problem. If she can just find the right solution.
This is the kind of theatre you just have to forego looking for logic and give yourself over to the lunacy. A laugh-out-loud comic evening of wackiness. With a message. But if you don’t figure it out, don’t worry. You’ll have a good time anyway.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!