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Back Back Back

Itamar Moses' play is an intimate, well-observed take on baseball's recent steroid scandal. logo
James Martinez and Jeremy Davidson in Back Back Back
(© Joan Marcus)
"This is not a team sport anymore," says one character of major league baseball in Itamar Moses' new play Back Back Back, currently performing at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II. While the one-act curiously doesn't achieve a thematic resonance beyond the world of sports, it nevertheless scores as an intimate, well-observed take on baseball's recent steroid scandal, credibly depicting an increasingly paranoid environment where teammate distrusts teammate.

Although one needs not even a passing interest in the sport to follow the play, baseball fans are certain to enjoy an added dimension, thanks to a familiarity with the players who are the likely inspirations for the characters: Jose Conseco, whose tell-all book opened Major League Baseball up to intense government scrutiny; home-run hero Mark McGuire, implicated as a steroid user in the tell-all book and consequently subpoenaed to testify at Congressional hearings; and Walt Weiss, who followed both players as a Rookie Of The Year recipient (a rare "back to back to back" honor that is one interpretation of the play's title.)

Like Moses' previous works, Bach at Leipzig and The Four of Us, Back Back Back is driven by men in uneasy professional competition with each other. Moses has a pricked-up ear for the way that men talk when motivated by professional jealousy or insecurity, and much of his dialogue is convincing in its mindfulness of what is left unsaid. For example, when golden boy ballplayer Kent (played by the wholly believable Jeremy Davidson) marvels at the abilities of one of the team's up-and-comers, it's clear that what he's really saying is that he feels an increased pressure on himself to continue to perform.

Structured as a series of nine short scenes -- the time and place of each lit up on a digital scoreboard that is the visual centerpiece of David Zinn's neatly efficient set -- the play tracks three teammates whose careers ultimately take different directions, but who will each take action as the steroid scandal nears Washington. When we first meet the three together, Kent and his teammate Raul (played with amusing bravado by James Martinez) are connecting for "pre-game vitamins" right under the nose of Adam (a convincingly wide-eyed Michael Mosley), a rookie who is far less stressed about playing in his first World Series than about the girlfriend who just dumped him.

If Moses was writing a polemic, he'd center the play around morally righteous Adam, who doesn't take performance enhancement drugs and who is disillusioned to find that his teammates do. Instead, the playwright's main focus is on Kent, whose steroid use is the source of some shame and motivated by the insecurities we glimpse beneath his calm, cool exterior. Further, Moses even finds some sympathy for Raul, who not only unconditionally approves of steroids, but seems to believe that all ballplayers should take advantage of them.

Daniel Aukin's direction avoids a heavy moral hand in presenting the characters and guides the actors to fine, effective performances. What could have been a lecture in lesser hands instead becomes a compelling work of theater thanks to Moses, Aukin, and the cast.

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