Earlier this week while waiting at the entrance of a venue, I overheard an enthusiastic Fringe-goer, who had her evenings booked with Fringe shows for the next two weeks, announce: “I rarely see one-man shows. I don’t see want to listen to one person relay anecdote after anecdote without any point.”
Dear Fringe-goer: Please accept this review as my plea to make an exception and buy a ticket to The Play about The Coach. An hour in length, this one-man show is told by The Coach (played brilliantly by Paden Fallis) who gives us a front row look into his second by second struggle to coach his team to victory.
The stage is set up for The Coach’s entrance; a water cooler on a high stool, a sweat towel slung over a chair back. In the background, shouts echo from a basketball court, a whistle blowing, and the sound of a basketball: thud, thud-thud, swish.
The Coach enters disoriented, nervous and sweaty. He buckles his belt, squeezes eye drops into his eyes, then takes the stage as the speakers overhead erupt with the clicking of flashing cameras and the press shouts over each other to make their questions heard. Ignoring these shouts, The Coach sticks to the statement he has prepared on his napkin, until a reporter throws this question out:
“Did you make the wrong call, at the end?
Swish. The reporter just made the free throw. The Coach is hooked.
For the next hour the last three minutes of the game unfold before our eyes as The Coach excludes nothing– arguments with the referees, his rivalry with his old classmate, his quips and his anger fits – are all there. Basketball has never been so thrilling.
As The Coach, Fallis is tremendous. When he first comes on stage, he embodies the gawky demeanor of a sports coach who is uncertain and shy when he is not on the court. Yet as soon as he walks onto the court, it clicks. He relaxes his jaw, his movements are crisp and focused, his hands decidedly rest on his hips. He is the king of the sidelines – for a little while, at least.
Another aspect of The Coach’s character that Fallis excellently preforms is the quick, fast-changing, smooth rhythm in The Coach’s speech. Fallis’ dialect not only rings out with perfect clarity, it also possesses unmatched rhythm and pace. He changes beats without the bat of eye, executing every one as smoothly as the basketball plays he draws on the whiteboard. One minute he is barking at his players and the next he slides into a sarcastic dialogue, before changing again to reciting Julius Caesar.
One of his funniest moments is when he finds out one of his players is blind, and tries to offer him some awkward encouragement. “ “Beethoven was going deaf when he wrote his last symphony, so, there’s some encouragement”,” he tells his player, attempting to establish some connection. Fallis’ timing is perfect in this section as in others.
One of the aspects of The Play about The Coach seeks to convey is the moment-by-moment intensity that coaches experience when working on the court. Until the clock runs out, the only world they live in is the one being played out in front of them. To help bring out this theme, The Coach receives a mysterious phone call when each time-out is called. From The Coach’s response, it is obvious the person on the other line needs his support. “Yes I am aware of what you are about to do…” The Coach says into the phone, but the conversation is cut short as he watches a free throw sink into the basket. His silver phone drops onto the ground, and is never picked up again.
What is the point to all the quips, dropped phone calls and play-by-play descriptions? The Play about The Coach doesn’t have a universal message except that it offers a front row seat to the pressure and intensity that define the job of a basketball coach. It offers what any good show can boast of – a slice of life.
The slice this play offers is flavored by sweat, tears and ultimately, defeat. It is simply delicious, and is presented by Fallis’ superb performance, one that sports fans and non-sports fans can savor.
The Play About the Coach has 5 performances at Goethe Institut, 812 7th St NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets