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Theater Review (LA): Lions by Vince Melocchi at Pacific Resident Theatre

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Lions is a powerful new play by Vince Melocchi about hope and despair in this time of economic woe when jobs are being lost, families threatened, and workers forced to confront years of complacency. The scene is Detroit, the hardest hit economy in America, in a private sports bar/club, the “10th Ward Club,” during a favorable upturn in the fortunes of the Detroit Lions, who haven’t reached the NFL finals in 51 years. A group of guys and one woman stay glued to the television as they watch the unfolding of their team's gains and losses. It is also a club where the patrons’ personal stories unfold and unwind.

In the bar we find as varied a group of losers as one might find in an O’Neil play: the lovelorn middle-aged woman, the bagger who dreams of changing jobs, and the morgue body-bagger who dreams of being a rapper; a couple of stressed-out bartenders who have to deal with the fights, emotions, and failings of the customers; an overweight guy with a secret girlfriend in Colorado (he is in a loveless marriage); the friend who tries and fails to keep a friend from falling apart; and finally John “Spook” Waite, who loses his job, his family, his pride, and his easygoing manner when he is fired from a job in a steel and screw factory, a job he has had for 20 years.

Along the way we also meet a job counselor, a reverend, a successful sports agent and friend of Spook, and Spook’s desperate wife, who is trying to motivate her husband to stop drinking and get a job. The ensemble playing is first–rate and the action as gripping as any football game.

Whatever the fate of the Lions, the patrons in the bar eventually find a way to keep going, leaning on their friendships and the love of each other and the game. Sometimes you want to scream at some of the characters to make a move. But each one does make some move, and one may even leave Detroit.

Matt Mackenzie as John “Spook” Waite gives the best performance I have ever seen from this talented actor. He is not afraid to expose the anger, stubbornness, and caring of this searching man. It’s a very powerful performance and a daring one. Lions began in January and has just been extended at the Pacific Resident Theatre until May 3rd. Go see this play that has been packing them in and is being considered for a Pulitzer Prize.

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