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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW Tight End
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-05-17

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Playwright: Rachel Bykowski. At: Twenty Percent Theatre Company at the Pride Arts Buena, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets: $20. Runs through: June 3

"I'm a physical education teacher. My job is to protect the students," declares the coach of the Westmont High School Titans. "In a small town like this, football is life," insists the widow of former champion Adam Miller. They both want to make sure we know that, since the story they are about to recount points toward trouble from the very get-go.

The daughter of the aforementioned champ, young Ashley Miller ( or "Ash," as her beloved father preferred to address her ) is determined to follow in her sire's cleatsteps and play for the Titans—not as a cheerleader, or a towel-slinger, or even as a kicker, but as a fully empowered collision-sport athlete, charging and toppling adversaries with the fearlessness of horseless jousters. At first, her goal meets with skepticism, but her willingness to train alongside her male comrades eventually renders her so valuable an end receiver ( where speed and agility count more than stopping power ) as to overcome their cultural biases—a license not extended to her boy-bestie, quarterback Sam Jones, who must conceal his gay tendencies or face the wrath of his intractable father.

A major factor distinguishing "sports" from "games" is their analogies to battlefield skills—running, jumping and proficiency with weapons—exhibited by warriors at what we now know as Olympic competitions. Even that definition, however, offers no rational justification for the amalgamation of football and war in the minds of those rendered bloodthirsty by spectator fantasy. The injury that will end Ash's dreams of gridiron glory, ironically, does not arise from the masculine values associated with her arena of endeavor, but from the hostility generated when these values are misrepresented to clash with outdated gender-linked social prejudices revered as "traditions."

Playwright Rachel Bykowski and director Kallie Noelle Rolison are to be commended for their refusal to traffic in propagandistic caricature, instead striving for the tragic inevitability of noble intentions undone by obsessive hubris. Erich Peltz, Rachel Mock and Patrick Pantelis ( whose rejection of Vince Lombardi-wannabe mannerisms in his portrayal of Coach D is palpably manifest ) deftly circumvent stereotypes to create personalities flawed, but never malicious. At the center of the action, however is Bryce Saxon's Ash, proclaiming her ambitions with heroic defiance while reveling in the pain and the passion that will prove her undoing.


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