Sunday, August 06, 2006

Johan Santana's Perfect Game (3 stars)

Powered by Twins Geek

How far would you go to see the simple purity of a perfect game? And how much further would you go to hide the joy of that simplicity? Those are the questions that are thrust upon Ben (Jonathan Wemette) when he and his roommate Paul (Kevin Albertson) struggle through the final three innings of that game that everyone knew Santana would someday have.

Ben and Paul are the two different camps that follow baseball today. Paul is more traditional, reveling in the Fox Sports Net theme, and anxious to date Marny Gellner so he can meet Dick and Bert. Ben is that geeky side, citing statistics and labeling Francisco Liriano “Johan Santana 2.0” because “he’s a strikeout pitcher like Santana, but he’s ALSO a groundball pitcher”. They’re both baseball junkies and superstitious to a fault, especially Ben.

However, analytical Ben isn’t comfortable with the simple joy he feels of being a “sports guy”, and that’s especially true because he’s now dating the sophisticated Claire (Heather Hannigan). He hasn’t told her anything about his love for baseball, let alone his superstitious streak, and tonight they’re going to see her friend’s performance art show at the Walker. Ben attempts to hide the truth from Claire, while still trying to maintain their relationship AND providing the mojo Santana needs, form the core of the conflict for this comedy.

It’s a solid idea and reasonably well written. I felt like the first half stumbled a bit on the “guy” angle, lacking some subtlety, and carrying unreasonable premises too far for their slapstick possibilities. Ben’s character (and his relationship with Claire) wasn’t developed well enough early enough to make sense of why he was so desperate to hide the truth, which made the theatrics less effective, and a little puzzling.

For instance, the guys discover that holding hands is brining good luck. But why must the guys hold hands when the Twins are batting, and wouldn’t that have made for better theater? For half the inning, Ben could be perfectly normal, but for the other half of the inning, he would’ve acted crazy. That twist would have provided just as many (if not more) laughs, and it would have been more clear why Claire kept sticking around through Ben’s psychotic episode.

It recovers well in the second half. The sight gags get funnier, Paul appears less cartoonish, Claire more understandable, and we see more of the relationship between all three characters. The show moves from slapstick to more layered comedy, resulting in a distinct improvement.

Like the rest of the case, writer Jonathan Wemette (also Ben) is very young,, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that he seems to have a better sense about relationships between people than relationships between guys (and yes, there’s a difference). However, his script really shines in its ability to provide detail about the culture clash central to the show. Wemette knows his baseball, both from an analytical and traditional fan perspective, and the script is peppered with little insights. He’s equally adept exploring Claire’s theatrical world, and several of the most clever lines are when Claire in on her cell phone with her manic performance artist friend. (“No, most performance venues don’t come with a chainsaw as standard equipment.”)

The acting was solid, though not all challenges are met. Wemette has the heaviest load, and isn’t totally up to the task, though I don’t think the script helped him out much. Albertson is pretty good at the slapstick aspect and added depth and detail to what could have been a very flat character. Hannigan did a fantastic job playing the role of unknowing wet blanket while still remaining likable, which was essential in this story.

I felt it was worth the hour and $12 required to see it, and my friend thought it was even better than that. If you’re a baseball fan, the sprinkled Twins references throughout the script shine like gems (or should it be diamonds?) It successfully bats around the subject of sports and our culture and relationships, while still remaining entertaining. And finally, there’s a certain excitement about following a possible perfect game, whether or not it’s fictional. Johan Santana’s Perfect Game isn’t perfect, but it provides a simple pleasure, like baseball. And I'm not ashamed to say that.


Johan Santana's Perfect Game is showing for one more week at the Fringe festival, with shows Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. For more information and tickets, click here.