Bo Eason in Runt of the Litter
(© Joan Marcus)
Bo Eason in Runt of the Litter
(© Joan Marcus)
Norman Mailer invented the term "faction" to describe that blurry landscape where fact and fiction overlap and the story might or might not be true. A sterling example of faction, former football great Bo Eason's one-person play Runt of the Litter, has just returned to Off-Broadway at the 37 Arts Theatre after a triumphant run five years ago at the Manhattan Class Company. The play, directed by Larry Moss, is written and performed with such a compelling combination of authenticity and semi-autobiographical detail that truth and art become one and the same.

Eason, who uses the character name of Jack Henry in the play, was a small, only moderately talented, but driven young athlete, while his brother Tony Eason, the golden boy quarterback who led the Boston Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1986, was the embodiment of athletic perfection. Jack Henry recounts his commitment to becoming a pro football player at the age of nine, vowing to catch 1,000 passes every single day. As he notes with dry irony, he was the one who made his brother a star by making him throw those 1,000 passes every day.

The play begins in the locker room before a Super Bowl game that pits free safety Jack Henry's team against the team led by his famous, superstar brother. This confrontation is a fiction, since the Patriots faced the Chicago Bears that year while Bo languished with the also-ran Houston Oilers. But the Super Bowl is merely a dramatic construct that raises the stakes and heightens the tension. What Eason wants to expose is the culture, both in his household and in the country at large, that would turn an innocent 9-year-old boy into a 29-year-old man intent upon hurting and even maiming opposing players. For him, football is not a game; it's a war in which, every Sunday during the season, is a justification of his life.

Because Bo is the perennial underdog, seen by everyone except his parents as too small to ever play pro football, we are drawn to his struggle to make it. Indeed, the audience even swells with pride when his implacable father scoffs at the issue of the kid's size and says that that they haven't measured his heart. We're with him every step of the way, not wanting this dedicated kid to fail. But that finally implicates us, when, in the final minutes of the play, we see what we have created.