Published in KPBS On Air Magazine September 1994
Take ‘im out!
Strike the bum out!
Ahhh, the sweet, soothing sounds of America’s favorite pastime! It’s September, summer’s over, and a young wo/man’s fancy turns obsessively from back-to-school garb and gear (plaids, pencil cases and penny loafers) to diamonds and dugouts, stats and playoffs.
Batter up! SDSU takes the field with the opener of its Fall-Winter theater season, the West coast premiere of “Diamonds” an off-Broadway musical revue with words by Bud Abbott & Lou Costello; Roy Blount, Jr., and others. With music and lyrics by Cy Coleman; Comden & Green; Kander and Ebb; Menken and Zippel, and others.
The gamely musical collage opened in 1984; it never made the major leagues, but like the sport it exalts, it’s good, clean fun. Repetitive, maybe. Could be a long haul to the last inning, if it’s not played well. But that’s baseball, folks.
SDSU steps to the plate with “Diamonds” (September 23-October 1), and a strong season lineup: Larry Kramer’s 1985 now-classic social drama, “The Normal Heart”, a look at gays and AIDS, anger and love (October 14-22); Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “As You Like It” (November 11-20), set at the turn of the century; a Theatre for Young Audiences production of “Cherokee” (February 3-4), an original folk drama by Margaret Larlham; the topical “Drop Dead” (March 3-11), a new translation of Eugene Ionesco’s “Jeu de Massacre,” an absurdist tragicomedy that traces plagues through time; “The Adding Machine” (March 24-April 1), Elmer Rice’s hugely popular 1923 dramatic satire about an anti-hero, Mr. Zero, in a world of automation; and finally (April 28-May 7), the Lee Adams/Charles Strouse musical romp, “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!”
A varied roster, by design, says Rick Simas, SDSU Drama Department faculty-advisor for marketing and publicity. Each play has an audience. Shakespeare and the musicals are geared to the older set, the traditional supporters of SDSU’s theater offerings, as well as to high school students (this year, the Drama program was awarded a national grant to bring in at-risk school-children). The Kramer, Ionesco and Rice plays target the on-campus community, which the program has been courting for the past few years. In fact, the opening of “The Normal Heart” coincides with AIDS Awareness Week and its attendant campus-wide activities, and one performance will be interpreted for the deaf.
SDSU audience demographics have changed considerably in the past few years. When the theatrical fare evolved from conventional Shakespeare productions, warhorse musicals and Neil Simon comedies to more relevant, contemporary and controversial work, attendance dropped dramatically, as seniors began to stay away in droves. But they started coming back when the season became more balanced; now they comprise 15-20 percent of patrons, while the audience majority is women in their 20s-40s (younger than the average local theatergoer: a woman in her 30s-50s).
Simas predicts that America’s obsession with baseball will draw a diverse audience to “Diamonds”. Some retro-types may think baseball is for boys and theater is for girls and sissies. But director Paula Kalustian puts a spin on those theories. The 43 year-old Associate Professor, director of SDSU’s Master of Fine Arts program in Musical Theatre (one of only about ten such programs nationwide) and Artistic Director of the Theater in Old Town, is the ideal draft to direct “Diamonds”. “Baseball and theater are my two loves,” she admits. As a kid, Kalustian played shortstop in Los Angeles. “I was a really fast runner,” she says, “and I could steal bases. But I could never throw worth a damn.”
Now Kalustian is throwing out the first pitch. “I like the “idea” of baseball more than the playing of the game. Baseball as an American icon.” And that’s just how “Diamonds” depicts it, with sketches, songs, scenes and production numbers, “a revue with a historical feeling,” as Kalustian puts it; “not a slick and flashy kind of current revue” (such as Kalustian has repeatedly directed to great effect in Old Town). Baseball history is often spotlighted in the piece: we hear about Joe Jackson and the Chicago Black Sox, and there’s a clever sports cast which uses baseball as a metaphor for war. And — what will undoubtedly be the highlight, if it’s done well — the play contains the immortal Abbott/Costello routine “Who’s On First?” which never fails to amaze with its brilliance.
The Don Powell Theatre will be reconfigured for “Diamonds”, so the audience is on the stage, too, up close to the action. There’ll be a you-know-what center-stage, brightly outlined by Astro-turf, with musicians in the dugout, bleachers for the audience and ballpark food in the stands.
“But you don’t have to be a baseball fan to like “Diamonds”,” Kalustian insists. “It’s good comedy, a good revue about the national pastime. Of course, if you “did” like baseball, which most people do, you’ll love it.”
The anthem’s been sung. Play ball!
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.