Directed by Jerry Russell
Set Design - Jim Covault
Technical Director - Jason Domm
Lighting Design - Michael O'Brien
Props/Set Decor - Lynn Lovett
Crusher - Bob Allen
Red Gage - Jeff McGee
Jane Jordan - Sherry Hopkins
Doyle Miller - Mark Fickert
Zinc Tucker - Chuck Huber
Pick Waters - Bryan Pitts
Scott Young - Joshua Buehler
Cheerleaders - Morgan McClure, Chelsea Ryan McCurdy
Reviewed Performance 2/11/2012
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
It was a hot August in 1966. It was hot for many reasons. America was watching an extraordinary history unfold. JFK had been assassinated. The war in Vietnam created a backlash in America, with war riots across the nation. Race riots were also occurring and hippies challenged America's culture in the streets. NASA was putting men into space and heading towards the moon.
Other changes were occurring as well. I took my first airline flights that summer. The first was on a DC-3 WWII-era plane that stopped 5 times and took over two hours. My return two days later was on a Boeing 707 which arrived in less than an hour. FM radio was replacing AM and TV was entering most living rooms. People were learning that news about riots and war and space was becoming more interesting as it became more visual.
Newspapers, however, had an iron-clad lock on sports. Male reporters lived with teams and enjoyed privileged access. That was about to change.
In the summer of '66, Dallas Cowboys owner Lamar Hunt engineered a merger between the National and American Football Leagues and the result would be the first Super Bowl that January. What made that possible was the first multimillion dollar TV contract, and TV stations suddenly demanded that cameras and women be admitted into the old boys club.
The Sports Page, being premiered at Stage West Theatre in Fort Worth, tells the story of change in the summer of 1966 at a Cowboy training camp. Written by local playwright and former sports writer, Larry Herold, the play is not about sports or the Cowboys, rather it's about journalism and social evolution.
Herold dramatizes the struggle press reporters had in getting a story and maintaining their integrity. He shows the complicated relationship between reporters and their subjects, in this case an emerging Cowboys superstar, Pick Waters, who knows TV is his future and doesn't want to relate to newspaper reporters. And he shows the sea-change from the print era to TV domination, where women reporters can compete with men for access and have more power than the sports teams they cover.
This play, directed by Jerry Russell, is a tight and masterful production. Execution by this cast and crew is a pleasure to experience. Every moment is timed precisely so you get caught in the story immediately and can't let go. From the opening prologue to the final curtain, it's like a fast-moving freight train speeding by a crossing. You have never felt 2 hours go by so quickly.
The actors are consummate professionals, most with stage acting, TV and film experience. They are precise with dialog and you feel like a fly on the wall watching it in real time. Their gestures and expressions align perfectly with their lines so well and you might understand the story even if they didn't say a word.
The set, designed by Jim Covault, is shaped and painted in 196o's "cheap hotel room," like an old Holiday Inn. The setting is a small-town college where the team trains. A curtain shows a football field in front of which scenes occur while watching the practice. Open the curtain and you see a dorm room, a team office or the 5 O'Clock Club. All these use the same room structure, but change d?cor and furniture for different looks. These set changes are augmented by the cheerleaders who entertain while moving pieces of furniture. It is quite fun and plays perfectly into the theme.
Lighting by Mike O'Brien is precisely timed with line cues to illuminate the set with bright lights for a summer afternoon and dim lights for sultry evenings. Sound effects include the expected sounds on a football field augmented with music of the times, The Beatles and songs of the 60's. The early appearance of NFL theme music appears. These create a real atmosphere of sports in Texas.
Costumes are not only timely for the 60's but perfect for a hot summer in small-town Texas. Designed by Michael Robinson, they include football uniforms and cheesy newspaper hats and guys hanging around hot dorm rooms in skivvies where no women are allowed. But when Jane Jordan, the TV reporter shows up, she's in a low-cut blouse and pedal pushers. That wakes up the reporters and coach. When she reports on camera she wears TV anchor attire. Her arrival certainly changes the dress code around the practice field and the "old boy network" feels her impact immediately.
Props are simple and necessary - typewriters and beer, a football, reporter notebooks. Lynn Lovett uses these to help actors with stage business in ways you don't notice because they are perfectly natural. With attention to small details, Lovett fills the set with decoration that creates the homey atmosphere of someone living in a hotel room.
The characters in The Sports Page include the crusty old reporters, Zinc Tucker of the Dallas paper, played with gusto and drive by Chuck Huber, and Doyle Miller, played like an old-timer from a Fort Worth paper by Mark Fickert. Their cross-town rivalry causes simmering jealousy but their camaraderie betrays two old dinosaurs facing an uncertain future. They are met by a young na?ve college-educated reporter, Scott Young, played by Joshua Buehler, who turns out to be a bit crustier than they think. They all work with the blessing of Red Gage, Cowboys PR man.
Jeff McGee makes Red look and sound like a high school coach and shows signs of a man who has put up with the reporters' guff too long but has a few arrows in his own quiver they don't know about. The reporters are on the trail of a young rookie player who could be the next Cowboys star running back. Bryan Pitts, as Pick Waters, shows his surly side when he fails to give the reporters an interview and that interview becomes the Holy Grail for the reporters.
Into this testosterone setting walks Jane Jordan, played with worldly panache and a gritty side by Sherry Hopkins. From the moment she walks into that dorm room the place turns upside down, just as the old guys feared. But she works her way into most everyone's good graces and breaks a few hearts in the process.
A subplot develops when we discover Zinc is a gambler, into Vegas for a bundle. He is chased by Crusher, played by Bob Allen, with the strength of a man who could break your legs for a dime. He keeps Zinc on the run and Waters in his sights.
The cheerleaders, Morgan McClure and Chelsea Ryan McCurdy, are prominent and though they have no lines, they keep the show moving while performing seamless transitions between scenes. One of these transitions turns into a dance, backing up mimed performances by pairs of actors, to the music "These Boots Are Made for Walking" by Nancy Sinatra. It is fun and may be one of my favorite bits though it's hard to single out anything as the best part.
These actors are a pleasure to watch. They are strong and confident in delivery. Their character choices fit their roles and they use gesture, voice and expression effectively.
The Sports Page is about the major social changes those of us over 45 experienced. TV dominates the media today and we have seen the upheaval it causes in the newspaper business. NFL dominates sports. And the idea of women in a locker room, anchoring a news desk, or running a corporation is no longer shocking. But in 1966 people were seeing the first glimpses of these social changes. This play is not about "sports", but as Larry Herold indicates, sports are a big part of the social change over the last 45 years. Get to Stage West early to see an exhibit of sports photos in the lobby that will take you back in time and give you context for the play.
THE SPORTS PAGE
Stage West Theatre
821 West Vickery Boulevard Fort Worth, TX 76104
Runs through March 18th
Thursdays 7:30pm; Fridays & Saturdays 8:00pm; Sundays 3:00pm
Tickets are $15 - $30.
For information and tickets, go to www.stagewest.org or call (817) 784-9378.