Silver Chips Online

Damn, "Yankees" has heart

Production gives Nats fans a postseason, so to speak

By Alex Hyder, Online Op-Ed Editor
January 18, 2006
For true devotees of the national pastime, the season is never long enough. Washington fans are no different after a 33-year drought of strikeouts, home runs, and stolen bases finally lifted from the nation's capital, a six-month season played in a relic of a stadium was not nearly enough to quench their thirst, especially since the Nats finished last in their division.

Now, true devotees of the National Pastime and their families can catch a glimpse of their beloved game right in the nation's capital, even in the middle of winter. "Damn Yankees" takes viewers back to a different time, when hapless Washingtonians tuned their rabbit-eared TV sets in to games at Griffith stadium, where a different Washington team, the Senators, played just as badly as the Nats.

The play centers on Joe Boyd, played by Lawrence Redmond. Boyd, a middle-aged real-estate broker, happens to be one of the biggest Senators fans alive. After Boyd voices his frustration at another Washington loss, the Devil, operating under the pseudonym of Mr. Applegate, appears out of the blue, offering him the chance to play for the Senators as the young, strong Joe Hardy, the greatest ballplayer to have ever lived. The only catch: once the season is over, Applegate (Broadway actor Brad Oscar), gets Boyd's soul.

Arena Stage's unique style of theater-in-the-round dramatically enhances on-field scenes, during which playgoers get the sense of watching a game from the stands. The entire theater becomes a stadium, with stadium-style red, white and blue bunting attached to box seats and actors entering the stands, while the hot dogs, popcorn and nachos available at the concession stand add to the effect. The style and the script offer ample opportunities for dazzling theatrics, and director Molly Smith seizes upon them. Pedestals and props rise out of the stage, while trapdoors and fog make for creative exit routes.

Although the sets, costumes and theatric props contribute to the overall effect, it is Smith's casting that seals the deal. Arena stage is a professional organization. Even in that context, however, the quality of the acting and the production is dazzling, rivaling the most vaunted Broadway troupes. The musical thespians deliver a convincing performance and truly put the viewer in the shoes of a 1950s baseball fan.

Unfortunately, some scenes are just too complex. Some songs feature Boyd and Hardy singing together, lending a confusing schizophrenic duality and a sense of absurdity to scenes that should be serious, solemn and heartfelt. Such shortfalls, however, are few and far between, and detract little, if at all, from the intriguing, enveloping tale of a deal with the devil that Arena's actors so artfully weave. "Damn Yankees" offers fans and non-fans alike everything they could want.