Kathleen Clark has had several plays produced by the prestigious Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, starting back in 1986. Her 2003 play Secrets of a Soccer Mom is not one of them, for good reason. It’s a cliché and stereotype driven hodge-podge of superficiality, presenting three women’s attendance and participation in their children’s soccer game as presumptive metaphor for “gaining perspective on life”. What it feels like is a calculated ‘vehicle’, a guaranteed easy sell to community theatres that never have enough roles for the women who audition (and fund them), that snatch up scripts where little to no set design and construction or creative costuming are called for. Bingo. Who can blame a playwright for wanting to make some easy royalty cash in today’s economy?
One can wonder why a reputable professional company like Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre would waste its time and energy and two Equity contracts on a show with no more artistry and depth than The Dixie Swim Club, the most produced, saccharine drek of a play by community theatres nation-wide. Do audiences really want to watch this fluff?
I’ll make this as short and sweet as possible. In Act One the three women fuss over their children, playing an endless game of soccer somewhere out front beyond the seating gallery. They whine about their husbands, their non-ending chores, their sex lives (insert giggles), and their abandoned REAL lives (tune up the violins). In Act Two they whine some more and decide to give their miserable lives renewed validity by beating their small children at soccer. In both acts, corny jokes get inserted at intervals, to liven things up a bit. Notably absent: clearly defined beats or plausible, revelatory character arcs. Even in a TV sitcom these would be present. Not here.
The best parts of the production at Circle are: the choreographed, farce-like intro when the three women arrive and set up at the soccer game; the choreographed, slow motion “enactment” of the soccer game in Act Two when they beat their kids. Director Robin Armstrong’s comic skill transcends the banal in both (do either exist in the Clark script?). The rest of the play mashes together like so much instant oatmeal, congealed in the bowl. Strongest, most credible performance, by far, comes from D’Lytha Myers as philandering ex-jock Alison. She acts with genuine intention. When she preps for the game, she behaves like a jock. When she looks out into the playing field over the audience’s heads and yells at her kids or flirts with a guy in a t-shirt, she defines a reality where those people exist. When she cow-tows to her domineering husband, offstage right, it’s easy to picture the sort of man she’s dealing with and the negotiating skills she needs to keep him happy. She looks directly at the other actors on stage and reacts to their words and deeds. The other two women, Angela D. Allen and Heidi Wermuth, deliver their lines audibly and seem to follow blocking but hardly convey any depth or nuance of character. Part of that is the fault of the insubstantial script; partly, they just don’t give very much, dig into their characters. A little variety in vocal delivery would help. Even in conversation, they aren’t totally present with each other as actors. Not very interesting to watch.
The set consists of a spackle-painted floor and some big pale blue floaty shapes (clouds?) plastered across the back wall and ceiling (Clare Floyd DeVries). The costumes are everyday sweats and t-shirts, sports bras, tennis shoes, etc., one might see on women at a soccer game (Robin Armstrong).
I’ve attended some awesome, outstanding productions at Circle Theatre in previous seasons. No clue why they would select this play to kick off 2012. A straight girls’ version of Richard Greenberg’s 2003 Tony award-winning Take Me Out it isn’t.
Secrets of a Soccer Mom runs through February 25, 2012.
TICKETS: 817.877.3040 or http://www.circletheatre.com.
NY Times review of what appears to be a stronger production from September 2003:
Photo by Glenn Ellman