By Geary Danihy
Last season, Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company staged Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third, a two-character, humorous excursion into the world of men, boys and baseball. In an equal-opportunity gesture, Square One opens its 2008 season with Kathleen Clark’s Secrets of a Soccer Mom, a three-character, humorous excursion into the world of women, kids and soccer.
The two works have a familial relationship in that both focus on an organized children’s sport to delve into gender issues, the constrictive nature of marriage and the politically correct approach to competitiveness when nurturing the young. Unfortunately, the depth of character development that made Rounding Third more than a polemic is lacking in Clark’s play. Hence, in Nancy (Lillian Garcia), Alison (Michael Anne Pentz) and Lynn (Danielle Sultini), we have three characters who are barely more then stereotypes: Nancy, the career-frustrated mom; Alison, the frustrated jock mom; and Lynn, the over-achieving mom.
The play’s predictability is aggravated by Clark’s apparent need to cover all bases, or cover the field, as it were. Listening to the dialogue, one gets the feeling that before writing the play Clark sat down and made a list of all the topics she wanted to cover and then checked them off as she inserted them into the play. Thus, the three actresses are given dialogue that is more issue-driven than character-driven, making the play seem as if it has been adapted from an essay on women’s issues.
This is compounded by the stage directions Clark has supplied that director Tom Holehan has no option but to follow. Exits and entrances are visual paragraph breaks that alert the audience that “discussion” of one “issue” has ended and a new “issue” is to be dealt with.
The three actresses do their best to bring life to their characters, and there are moments when they succeed in overcoming the declamatory nature of the dialogue to create interactive scenes that ring true.
Many of these have to do with the nature of competitiveness as prescribed for both children and females. The women have gathered at a soccer field to participate in parent-child exhibition matches, and their early take on how the games should be played – compete, but not too hard; everybody is a winner; don’t crush the fragile egos of the children – modifies as the mothers get into the game. Alison wants to play, not play at playing, and over the course of the single act she wins over the other two mothers so that in the final scenes, nicely staged by Holehan, they shed whatever societal restraints they have brought to the field and go out to “kick some ass.”
Such moments are, however, few and far between. In his Rounding Third, Dresser wisely extended the action over an entire season and had the two men interacting both on and off the field, which allowed the playwright to create multi-faceted characters who change over the course of the play. Clark focuses on a single afternoon, forcing the metaphor of the soccer game as mirror of life to work overtime, and never allows the audience to see the characters as anything other than soccer moms who, as the curtain falls, are basically the same characters who walked onto stage when the curtain went up.
There is certainly much gold to be mined from the women-sports-kids vein, but Clark has chosen to strip mine rather than dig deeply into the subject. Hence, the play is all surface and less then engaging.
Secrets of a Soccer Mom runs through Saturday, Nov. 22. For tickets or more information call 375-8778 or go to www.squareone.com.
This review originally appeared in The Norwalk Citizen-News.