Wednesday, June 17, 2015

'Jumpers for Goalposts' Victorious at Studio Theatre


What better way to get a jump on DC’s Capital Pride than to see Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts at the Studio Theatre, which is what I did the afternoon on June 13 just prior to the parade.  This charming, endearing, and often funny play that is making its U.S. debut was written skillfully by British playwright Tom Wells. Jumpers has been so enjoyed by audiences that the run has been extended at least through June 28.  #hocoarts

From left: Zdenko Martin, Liam Forde, Jonathan Judge-Russo,

Michael Glenn and Kimberly Gilbert.  Photo: Igor Dmitri

Director Matt Torney and his talented cast are to be given high-fives for bringing Mr. Wells’ script to life in such a touching and entertaining way.

The story concerns an LGBT pub football (soccer for us Americans) team in the working class town of Hull in England.  Their games are played on Sunday while the season lasts, and after each encounter, the players return to their normal lives.
Aptly named Barely Athletic, the hapless five-person team in this five-team league consists of three gay men, a lesbian and a “token straight.” As an example of its futility on the field, it narrowly defeated a transgender team playing in gowns and stilettos.  

While the team’s ineptitude is the backdrop of the play, the characters make the story rich, real and full of heart.  They are all everyday folks who have had problems in the past, and despite these challenges, at the end they find a way to move on. 
Most of us can relate to the ordinariness of their existence, the problems they encounter and the battles to overcome them.  This disparate group of characters in Jumpers allow us to reflect on our own lives in a way that causes our issues to seem mundane. 

The window that allows us to peak into the characters’ lives is the masterful set designed by Debra Booth.  All the action takes place in a grimy municipal locker room that mimics the gritty town in which it resides.   The details—from the bulletin board, filing cabinets and benches to the entrance to the shower room—are realistically displayed and form the perfect setting for the play.
Viv, a lesbian pub owner, played robustly by Kimberly Gilbert (2015 Helen Hayes Award recipient), is the mouthy self-appointed coach of the squad who was kicked off the lesbian team for being too bossy.  She can’t stand the constant losing on the field, and she pleads with each member to find a way to score a goal and for the goalie to stop a shot. 

Viv implores her teammates to at least “give it a go” even if they don’t emerge as victorious.  She even purchased three different sized trophies as a way of inspiration.  She was willing to settle for third place if the other two pegs in the standings were unachievable.  Viv may have showed off her bluster but she demonstrates a tender side as well.

Her sister had passed away and was the wife of another player on the team, the “token straight” and oldest member of the team, Joe, who is still grieving his loss.  He is played movingly by Michael Glenn. 
Beardy Geoff, a large man—a  bear, if you will—who insists on playing the game donned in  colorful patterned trousers and a childish woolen knit cap with bear ears, is one of the three gay male characters.  He has a penchant for having sex with members of the opposition and is the conduit between the other two gay men on the team.  Jonathan Judge-Russo performs admirably in this role and tenderly delivers the surprise ending.

Zdenko Martin, a hunky well-muscled chap plays Danny, who is clearly the most athletic of the male teammates and is the assistant coach.  He has an attraction for the overly shy, sheepish and squeamish Luke, played by Liam Forde.  Luke is a slender lad who keeps a diary consisting of rather uninteresting entries, needs to take a bus to and from the field so he can perform his job in a library, and has difficulty in opening the locker room door.
Danny and Luke make progress in their budding romance until Beardy Geoff convinces Danny to reveal to Luke the truth Danny has long-harbored.  Needless to say, it wasn’t well received. Mr. Martin and Mr. Forde turn in sterling performances especially during this exchange, which provides the most potent dramatic scene.

Under Mr. Torney’s direction, the play is staged with precision and energy.  Countless changes of costumes designed realistically by Kathleen Geldard are needed to reflect the passage of time while retaining the focus on the locker room.  The actors carry out these tasks perfectly without missing a beat.
Jumpers for Goalposts describes the challenges, struggles and triumphs of ordinary folks, exposing each of the character’s weaknesses and inner strengths alternately in funny and sad moments.  They may not win on the football field but they champion the stage.  This excellent play by Tom Wells should not be missed.

 Running time: Approximately One hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: The play contains adult language and is not suitable for children.

Jumpers for Goalposts is playing through June 28 at the Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 202-332-3300 or visiting online .

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