Being a life long Cub fan, watching a play about the team that is called “The Loveable Losers”, is quite difficult to watch. The play is “Bleacher Bums”. written by actor Joe Mantegna and his cohorts at Chicago’s Organic Theater back in 1977. Over the years, the play has changed a bit to keep the players more into the times. The version that is now being staged at the very intimate Oil Lamp Theater located in downtown Glenview (if one can call their main area, downtown) shows us the 1998 team as we witness a full game between our Cubbies and their arch rival St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, the game is what it is all about. Well, from the bleacher standpoint as we watch the gamblers, the neer-do-wells, the crazy fans- those people who were known as the “Bleacher Bums” back in the day. Today’s fandom is far different from those I watched as a kid. Back in my youth, the bleachers were the cheap seats. You could sit almost anywhere and no matter where you were, you could see the bets being made, won and lost. The night workers would spend their day at the ball park, then grab a bite or a nap and head to work. There were no night games (a fact that doesn’t get reflected in this production).
If you have never attended a play at Oil Lamp, you have no idea what you are missing. This intimate space, a very exotic storefront where delicious cookies, assorted peanuts and M & M’s await your taste buds (you can bring your own wine and they will open and pour for you) along with ice water and some soft drinks. It is a cool venue and the space where the action takes place allows every seat to see the production as it should be seen. Directed by Keith Gerth , who knows how to use this small stage, which has been designed to resemble Wrigley Field, the way it was (before the Ricketts did all the fancy stuff), with wooden bench seats, and metal railings. Let’s fact it, budgets being what they are, this small theater company strives to give us shows that are far more important than the set. It is the acting and performances that count.
The characters in this play are just that characters. Many of these people represent the real thing, the guys and gals who truly were in the bleachers back in the 1970’s (and even earlier). I had an uncle who was a bartender. He would take my brother and me to games and meet his cronies, who were also barkeeps. They would keep feeding us as they talked about the game, the players, and made some side bets. I did not fully understand it all back then, but as I matured and later when I saw the first rendition of this play I realized that my uncle Elmer was in fact Zig (played to perfection by Rob Weinstein, who also did a voice over during the 7th inning stretch of “Take me Out To The Ball Game” as Bozo). Zig is a married man who bets on almost anything and when his wife, Rose (Beth Goldberg truly has this lady “down pat”) shows up finds that his day has been compromised and that he cannot be himself.
All of the types are represented in this play: The Cheerleader (a divinely energetic performance by Emily Hawkins) who paints her face and brings with her everything one can think of, Decker (deftly handled by Eric Loughlin) another gambler who evidently has a decent job, but enjoys betting, Richie (JT Nagle) the nerdy loser, Greg (a superb portrayal by Martin J. Hughes), the blind spectator who brings his radio with and calls the game to others, Marvin (a powerful portrayal by Dennis Schnell) a better who finds the action more important than anything else and best against the home team, as he is there to win and that is all he cares about and our final fan, Melody (the vivacious Katie Mancuso) who is there to tan herself and make goo-goo eyes at Mark Grace, her player of note. There is one more cast member, a security guard, making a special guest appearance. I do not want to spoil the effect, so I will not tell you who he is.
This production has been set in two acts with an intermission after the fifth inning. I prefer to see it as 90 minutes with no intermission, but they did not break the mood by doing this. We do have the added “Take Me Out” 7th inning stretch and the game is pretty easy to follow with the voice over announcing of Andre Sguerra. This is a delightful show and has been one for baseball fans (even those who root for the South Side). I will not give you the results of the games, but odds are, you can figure out who wins. I suggest you attend yourself for a rousing night game!
“Bleacher Bums” will continue through September 13th with performances as follows:
|Saturdays:||3:00pm & 8:00pm|
Price: $34 for tickets
Box Office: 847-834-0738
The Oil Lamp Theatre is located at 1723 West Glenview Road, in beautiful “downtown” Glenview (just West of Waukegan Road) with plenty of free parking on the street and a lot adjacent to the theater.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Bleacher Bums”