I never have been a sports enthusiast, but I did find myself watching the congressional hearings on doping in baseball. I was struck by the arrogance of Jose Canseco as he almost joyfully confessed his role in the steroid scandal, and at the same time I was struck by his candor. He shared how steroids were everywhere are were a necessity for any athlete if he wanted to compete, and that if taken the way he knew how to take them, they were safe. I was also riveted by the testimony of Mark McGwire, who kept insisting that the past didn’t matter (i.e. the question of whether or not he took steroids) while agreeing that the use of steroids had gotten out of hand.
Itmar Moses, currently in residence at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, has written a play, part documentary and part fiction, about the history behind these hearings. The play is called Back Back Back, echoing the cry of baseball announcers when a player hits one out of the park. The results are at best interesting, and not fully developed.
Moses follows three players as they advance, change teams, and compete, and shows us the resulting conflicts in their relationships, as they discuss ethical questions. We find Raul (i.e. Canseco), a rather dim-witted muscular jock trying to peddle his steroids to two other players. First there is Kent (i.e. McGwire), who acts like he is only taking steroids because he has to in order to stay competitive. He takes then differently than Raul does, so somehow he feels he is on higher moral ground. Kent is trying to persuade Raul to let the rookie player Adam stay steroid-free. Adam is a mess because his girl left him, and the guys just want to help.
The play follows their careers, ending in the waiting room before the congressional hearings. The best scene is one in the dugout in which Adam wears a wire to trap Kent into confessing. The why of the scene is not really clear, however. Is it because Adam has finally succumbed to drugs and turned state's evidence? Or is he really just a moral crusader trying to set the game back on its drug-free track, harking back to the time when players like Babe Ruth played superbly without drugs, just heart?
The actors are all quite good. Joaquin Perez-Campbell plays Raul to the hilt, with posturing, hangdog looks, self-aware stupidity, and pride. Brendan Gill plays the self-righteous Kent with straightforward simplicity and crumbling resolve. Nick Mills is the rookie, Adam. The three actors play well together and are nicely directed by Davis McCallum. But Moses’ play feels incomplete, too much a documentary and with not enough real drama, except for the aforementioned dugout scene.
Perhaps this is a result of the timetable of Moses' many commissions. He is, after all, the latest darling of the repertory theaters, having four productions on the boards this fall and with several more in the works. I like his writing, especially when he doesn’t get too bogged down with his obsession with style. Moses does have a lot to say about competition in its many guises, and I look forward to more of his works.
Back Back Back plays at the Old Globe Theatre until Oct. 26.