Everyone wins at the “Theatre for a Cause”

Opportunities to do a good deed, while having a good time, are rare and much to be valued.

During the coming week, people in Jamestown are going to have just that opportunity. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the coming week, an organization called “Theatre for a Cause” is going to present three performances of “The Winning Streak,” by playwright Lee Blessing.

Anyone buying a ticket to Thursday’s performance will be giving most of their ticket price, beyond the costs of doing the show, to benefit ‘Chautauqua County RSVP Lutheran Foster Grandparent Program. If they’re your charity of choice, you can get your ticket for Thursday evening by phoning 665-8039. Remember your performance will begin at 7 p.m.

Audience members for Friday’s performance will be helping to support the Zonta International’s campaign to help end violence against women. Your performance will begin at 7:30 p.m., and you can reserve your tickets by phoning 487-2468.

Saturday’s audience will see a great play and be supporting St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church’s Honduras Promised Children Project. Your performance will begin at 7:30 p.m., and you have three choices for reserving your ticket. You may phone 753-6319, or 450-2986 or 386-2288.

Tickets to any of the three performances cost $12. Performances will take place at The Spire. That is the former Congregationalist Church, located directly across Third Street from the Jamestown Post Office. You may enter the building from that side if you go up the cement steps, then turn right and enter the part of the building which is furthest to your right.

If you need a handicap-accessible entrance, or if you want to park in the building’s parking lot, you may enter from the Fourth Street side of the building.

I’ve been to talk with the play’s two actors: Adam Hughes and Skip Anderson. We were joined by the director, Robert John Terreberry, and his assistant, Steven M. Cobb. I suspect you’ll find the results of that conversation most entertaining. I’ve also been looking through my past body of journalist, to a column written for Aug. 27, 2005. That column was a result of an encounter at Chautauqua Institution with Lee Blessing, the award-winning playwright of “The Winning Streak.” I’ve also done some research about professional productions of the play, and of other of Blessing’s creations, which might shed some more light for you on this version of his play, as well.

THE WINNING STREAK

“The Winning Streak” was first performed in Waterford, Conn., in 1999. It is one of more than 30 plays by Blessing, which have been published and professionally produced. Several have been awarded grants by organizations such as a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Great American Play Award. He has been nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award.

Actors in his plays and his screenplays have won many prestigious awards, including in 2005, when Vivienne Benesch, artistic director of the Chautauqua Theater Company, won an Obie Award for Best Actress in his play “Going to St. Ives.” The “O.B.” quoted by an Obie stands for “Off-Broadway.” It is the smaller theater equivalent of the Tony Award.

The play is solidly rooted in the playwright’s personal life. In 1998, he learned that his father had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and had been given only a short while to live. The playwright was living in New York City at the time, but he went to his father’s home, in San Diego, Calif., to try to create a life relationship with his father in the short while remaining of his father’s life.

“My father and I were both big baseball fans. That year, the San Diego Padres won 98 games to clinch the division, and eventually won the World Series. Watching my father, as his health declined, I noticed that the winning streak gave him inspiration to get up in the morning. He wanted to get out of bed to watch his team perform. I decided to write a play about a father and a son who find motivation from a series of baseball games,” he told Theater Scene.

Omar is the father in this play. He is a retired baseball umpire, whose life has gradually shrunk to the point that he doesn’t care about much else.

The son’s name is Ry. He is an art restorer, who lives in a world of thoughts and feelings, and the arts. The play begins as Ry makes his first contact with Omar. It turns out that the young man was the product of a one-night stand. Ry’s mother has never informed Omar that he has a son, so when Ry calls him up, the news comes as a bolt from the blue.

In many ways, Omar wishes Ry would just go away. However, the men’s first encounter coincides with the beginning of a winning streak for Omar’s favorite team. Sports fans are often superstitious, and will wear the same sweater for months, or will eat the same thing for breakfast for many weeks, rather than risk breaking the streak. Omar decides that his visits with his son are his team’s good luck charm, so the visits must continue.

“You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this play,” Blessing said in his interview. “It’s very funny, and very human. You’ll laugh a lot, and you’ll see yourself, no matter what your life is like,” he promised.

CAST AND CREW

I met with the four men behind the Jamestown production, in the hour before rehearsal was scheduled to begin. Only a year ago, I met in the same site with Terreberry and Hughes as they were preparing a production of the play “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

Hughes said, “I really enjoyed doing that play, which was the first one I sort of put together myself, not just acting in it, but choosing the script, asking other people to work on it, arranging for a place to perform, doing the publicity and so forth.”

Hughes and Anderson have performed together as actors in a long list of productions, many of them at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown and in the summer plays in Lake View Cemetery based on the Spoon River Project. The two have become friends, and they believe that they act particularly well when they perform together. “When Skip came to see ‘Morrie,’ I asked him if I did another play, this year, if he would be in it, and he said he would.”

This began a search for a play with central roles for an older and a younger man, involving relatively simple sets, costumes, etc.

“The Winning Streak takes place over 22 days, and there are seven separate scenes, but the playwright is determined to make his settings places where the two are forced into fairly close proximity,” Hughes said. “The characters sit in adjacent seats in a baseball stadium. They sit on adjacent bar stools. We see them in places where they have to overcome their discomfort at being so close together.”

Terreberry directed “Tuesdays With Morrie” and enjoyed the experience so much that he quickly agreed when invited to direct again this year. An activist in raising funds for Women’s Breast Cancer organizations, Terreberry knew that he would be absent for some periods of the rehearsal time, so he suggested an assistant director be appointed. He had met and worked with Steven M. Cobb, who like Anderson is a Maple Grove graduate.

Cobb has recently moved back to our area after an extended period of living in New York City and has quickly become an important addition to the local theater scene.

“I was impressed by the fact that this is a play about two men who feel a need to reach out to each other, even though neither of them is graceful about it. When people feel awkward, they often just close down and try to convince themselves and others that it doesn’t matter, and they really don’t care about the situation. The playwright keeps finding things which force them to try again, to try harder … It’s the trying that means more than any particular words or actions,” Cobb said.

Hughes said he had constructed much of the sets for this play, which is a first for him. “I’ve observed Wayne Buvoltz at Little Theatre, for years, and I’ve picked up a lot from him,” he said.

What has been the biggest challenge for the two actors? Hughes and Anderson reply in perfect synchronization, without even needing to look at one another: “Learning the lines,” they both say.

Anderson said that when you only have two actors in a play, when one of them isn’t talking, the other one is. The play lasts about 75 minutes, he added, and if you’ve ever tried to just talk for that much time, it can really take some doing.

The company has been at work on the play since late March. Terreberry said rehearsal periods tend to involve a great deal of laughing, from beginning to end.

Anderson said, “Bob has come to expect a certain level of maturity with an adult company and an adult crew. I don’t think he always gets it, but we seem to be getting to where we want to go.”

Your invitation to do some serious laughing and some genuine study of human nature are open. I hope you’ll take advantage. The play involves some mature language, so use your judgment in whether to take the children.