By the halfway mark of Terri Mateer's autobiographical solo show A Kind Shot, now running at The Barrow Group Studio Theatre, you start to question your own grasp on reality. At this point, Mateer has told a story about a friend of her mother's boyfriend who helped her fill out her college applications and then forced her into oral sex; she's mentioned her high school basketball coach, who, during a Driver's Ed lesson, taught her to give him a hand job; and she's recounted the sexual harassment at the hands of another basketball coach, which led her to quit her first job as a professional player in France. All signs point to a woman in distress with no safe place to turn.
And yet, she tells each of these stories so flippantly that you start to doubt your own sensitivities — especially when her facetious tone is met with scattered chuckles from the audience. Mateer narrates these situations as if they were merely a series of unfortunate sexual encounters, rather than repeated acts of abuse. The line between these two has recently been the subject of particularly intense scrutiny as the #MeToo cultural awakening continues to build momentum. And Mateer finally draws this line herself, realizing the inappropriate and often criminal nature of so many of her professional and personal relationships. That moment of relief, however, is immediately followed by the sinking feeling that among the collateral damage of this delayed epiphany was her childhood, a large chunk of her adulthood, and her entire professional basketball career.
Mateer has an athlete's striking presence: six-foot-one in height and wingspan with a powerful voice that can scare off any opponent and hands that can palm a basketball (which she delightfully demonstrates onstage). She's at her most compelling when she's talking about the game — her joy of learning it from one of her mother's tenants and her pseudo-father figure Ike, the artistry in its mechanics, and sense of value that came from doing it well. From there, Mateer's story goes in all directions and loses the grounding force that basketball was seemingly intended to provide. True, the more her life spins out of control the more she as a person also loses sight of basketball and its stabilizing power. But as we charge through the chapters of her biography, the conspicuous absence of narrative shape dilutes the potential wallop A Kind Shot could have.
We watch as Mateer gets accepted to Boston University, decides not to go, ends up playing basketball for Florida State University, switches to rugby, then back to basketball, gets recruited for a pro team, leaves the pro team, creates a nude modeling portfolio, starts acting classes, and eventually lands a freelance gig at an architecture firm. It's a lot to follow and it's all delivered in a stream of consciousness with no guideposts. Entertaining details that don't serve the story are left in the script while other pieces of information that would have clarified the picture are omitted. Mateer's journey has certainly been nonlinear, and it wouldn't serve her piece to suggest otherwise. Life, of course, does not have the benefit of a clear arc. But that's the advantage of turning reality into art — a semblance of order emerges from the rubble. There's a valuable story at the heart of A Kind Shot, but for it to come into focus, Mateer needs to sweep away some of the debris.
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