Back in the 1940s (and I do remember them), many of the popular plays were comedies with few characters — excepting, of course, those by Kauffman and Hart who crammed as many people on stage as possible.
The comedy which Elkhart Civic Theatre opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House is definitely among the former. “Home Games” is a warm-hearted look at families, relationships and the little things in life that count.
It was written by Tom Ziegler, a professor at Washington and Lee University who describes himself as “a teacher who writes” rather than “a writer who teaches.” Whatever that difference may be, Ziegler has turned out a number of low-keyed plays, several of which (including “Home Games”) have found their ways to off-Broadway houses and unanimous if not thunderous praise.
The action, such as it is, centers around Mertie Mae (Mert) Tucker (played with ingenuous charm by Amie Kron), an unmarried lady of 37, who lives in an apartment in New York’s Washington Heights and is the sole support for P.K., a blind cat, and P.B., a rescued bird, and her father, Anton (“Tony”) Tucker (David Robey).
It is 1985 and Mert is a dispatcher with the trucking company for which her father drove until an accident left him in a coma.
A former professional ballplayer, he now lives in a baseball world, specifically amid the New York Yankees in 1955, the one season when he played for the team, primarily from the bench. About to be traded to Cleveland, he opted to retire but, in his head, is still a Yankee catcher.
At home now, he spends much of his time in one-sided conversations with manager Casey Stengel as well as cheering on his team mates, including Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, suited in a Yankees shirt and his “lucky” BVDs.
He assigns Yankee personas to everyone in his life including Mert, who is his Casey Stengel. When a young man follows Mert home from her night school class in English lit, he becomes Mickey Mantle.
Initially, Frank Whitfield (Joseph Schroeder) seems to be fairly well-adjusted and “normal” by society’s standards. He describes himself as “a conservative capitalist,” complete with fiancé and parents who find a college degree important. It gradually becomes clear, however, that he is indeed a candidate for “Mert’s home for the helpless.”
Watching these three square pegs searching for the right fit in a world of round holes makes for a gently entertaining evening.
Opening night the pace was slow and an electronic glitch left the actors shouting from the hall rather than speaking through the non-working intercom, but anyone familiar with a sports addict will relate to Tony’s emotional rise and fall as the Yanks face their longtime pennant enemies, the Brooklyn Dodgers. And anyone who cares for a damaged relative or friend will applaud Mert’s unswerving devotion to her dad and her undeniable resilience in the face of a “will he/won’t he” relationship.
The rest will cheer for Frank to make the “right” decision, whatever that may be. I didn’t see it coming but, upon reflection, agreed with Ziegler that it was the best for all.
As always, the set designed by John Shoup is undeniably livable if a little “country” in color.
Calling the plays, director Tony Venable was assisted by Josh Padgett. If not a home run, ‘Home Games” is a sure three bagger.
“HOME GAMES” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House. For reservations, call 848-4116 or visit elkhartcivictheatre.org