Center Stage’s “X’s and O’s” tackles the controversies of football

By: Mia White, Staff Writer

To many Americans, football season is a yearly ritual filled with a mixture of elation and excitement. To others, it is a mystifying, or even brutal, obsession. Center Stage’s “X’s and O’s explores the game through combination of fiction and interviews, creating an experience that will appeal to an audience that extends beyond football fanatics to the casual, or even sports disinterested, theater-goer.

The idea for the play was born just a few days after former football player Junior Seau committed suicide in 2012. Playwright KJ Sanchez and co-creator Jenny Mercein (daughter of an NFL running back) met at a party and realized they both loved football. Hoping to examine the controversies of the sport on stage, they soon received a co-commission from Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Center Stage to make their idea come to life.

This play is unusual, in that draws from interviews and also presents fictional narratives.  The play presents commentary through monologues or conversations that characters have with one another. The beauty of the play lies in its variety. It brings stories together in a way that is incredibly thought-provoking. Rather than arguing for or against football, “X’s and O’s” leaves the viewer feeling more knowledgeable, but no less sure of what the future of the game should be. The script flows seamlessly from one idea to the next, and there is a great balance of humor, tragedy and statistics.

The play explores many ideas surrounding the game, including it’s history and the passion that it draws from its fans. The central controversy is that of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). A condition caused by repetitive impacts of the brain, CTE presents symptoms similar to those of dementia, including erratic behavior and memory loss. The play also touches on race and socio-economic background, the connection of football to the American dream, and football as a means of escape from a life of poverty.

The acting in the play was on point throughout. Since the play included many different perspectives, there were far more characters than the six actors in the show. There were voices of retired players, doctors who study donated brains from deceased players, and diehard fans. It was impressive how the actors often changed roles in an instant, simply by pulling a jersey over their head, carrying themselves in a distinct way, or changing their patterns of speech. Occasionally it felt a little disorienting to have so many characters, but the actors did an excellent job of creating individuality.

One particularly powerful scene occurs at the end of the play, when three family members of CTE affected players tell their stories. Like the rest of the play, this scene is, powerful by cumulative effect. The distinct stories would be heartbreaking on their own, but the impeccable acting of Eddie Ray Jackson, Miralee Talkington, and Jenny Mercein, merges with the script to reveal the overlap between the stories, and lifts them into the sphere of tragedy.

Ultimately, the play was enjoyable. It touches on thought provoking ideas of football which are a key part of American culture. There is no doubt that any viewer would appreciate the excellent acting and informative script, and will go home with a richer understanding of the game.

Pictured (left to right): Anthony Holidays, Eddie Ray Jackson. Photo credit: Richard Anderson

“The Secret Garden” blooms at Center Stage

The Secret Garden.

The Secret Garden.

Center Stage’s production of “The Secret Garden” is an emotional and energetic production bursting with talented actors who bring the script to life. Most viewers are familiar with the children’s book published by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1910, and adapted many times to stage and screen. Center Stage’s production is a musical, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon (sister of Carly Simon).

The story follows a girl, Mary Lennox, who is orphaned by a cholera epidemic and must travel from India to the wilds of the English countryside. There she lives with her uncle, Archibald Craven, who is still in the throes of grief from the death of his wife some tens year prior. Mary discovers a secret garden that once belonged to her aunt but has since been forgotten, and with the help of her newfound friends she brings back life to the garden and the Craven household. Ultimately, it is a story about how love and bravery overcome in the face of overwhelming grief and trauma.

One of the greatest strengths of the show is an ensemble of actors who consistently work to build their characters through solid acting and polished singing. Given that all the actors in the show had extensive musical experience, it is unsurprising that the singing was very consistent throughout the show. This production brings in a cast that is almost entirely new to Center Stage, and all actors stepped confidently into their roles. The children in the show were impressive, with Mary (Caitlin Cohn) and Dickon (Cameron Bartell) being especially captivating. Cohn embodied the Mary from the book, building a petulant, wild but incredibly compelling protagonist for the show. Bartell, though his stage presence was minimal, created a sense of Dickon’s playful wisdom in his interactions with other characters.

The only minor weakness in the show came not from the production, but from the script. Though the two women who adapted it are clearly immensely talented, the focus of the script was purposely shifted to the interpersonal journeys of the adults to create a broader appeal. While the development of the characters was effective, it took away from time that might have been spent with the immensely talented younger cast members, building the children’s characters and increasing the impact of the story’s conclusion. Still, Mary firmly holds her place as the protagonist, and it is her fiery and “quite contrary” personality that drives the progression of the plot.

The set for the show is simple but effective, using the torn pages of a book as a color changing backdrop, and a rising and falling platform in the middle of the stage as a multi-use prop. Small trees or pieces of furniture were occasionally brought on stage, but it was the ghostly presence of actors that created a scene. A surprising amount of the show is set inside, and so it was a slight disappointment not to see more flora. Nonetheless, the set effectively creates changes in atmosphere and space to enhance the events taking place on stage.

The choreography for the show helped to build the characters’ development, effectively revealing their varied personalities and states of mind. It also created a strong sense of setting. The simplicity of the set meant that between scenes, there were only minor changes that occurred. One particularly effective example of choreography occurred during Mary’s nighttime wanderings of the house, when the presence of many adult cast members standing in picture frames created a feeling of the expansive loneliness of the house.

Overall, Center Stage’s performance of “The Secret Garden” is a wonderful production of a timeless story. The ghostly presence of dead characters and the vibrancy of those still living built a strong sense of tension throughout. It is worth seeing, especially if you are a fan of the book. The show runs on the Main Stage through November 29. Tickets are available on Center Stage’s website https://tix.centerstage.org or at their box office.

Letter From the Editor: Nov 2015 Issue

“ You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” Jim Rohn 

We are in the midst of change. We’ve long since said goodbye to summer, but the weather is finally starting to really cool down. Before we know it we’ll be trudging to class through the snow again.

Change is sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always exciting and a little scary. At The UB Post we’ve had a lot of changes since the semester began. Lawanda and I had some specific goals for The Post this year, but with an extremely rocky start to the semester, we had to make it our priority to keep the newspaper afloat. I love designing and was excited for my first semester as the Production Manager, but when our new Editor-in-Chief unexpectedly quit, out of necessity I stepped up to serve as interim Editor-in-Chief. Andrew Koch, a longtime Staff Writer and business major at UB, stepped into the role of Business Manager. We are so lucky that Lawanda Johnson, the only remaining member of the Editorial Board from last year, knew all the nooks and crannies of the inner workings of The Post. 

We have a new Managing Editor, Montéz Jennings, and we’ve found a permanent Editor-in-Chief, Kyle Fierstien, that will both start next semester. We’re extremely excited to welcome them to the team. And now that we’re back on solid ground, we’re ready to push forward.

At the end of November we are relaunching our website, ubpost.org. In addition to introducing a new website design that’ll be easy to navigate, we will be bringing new articles to you every week. We’ll still have a monthly printed issue, but this gives us the chance to bring you time sensitive information like play reviews, detailed sports updates, and breaking news.

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Sincerely,

Nicole Hovermale 

 

Download the November 2015 issue here: UB Post_Nov2015 Issue