The talent of Tom Wells, regarded as one of Britain’s brightest young playwrights, is well-displayed in Jumpers for Goalposts on stage now at Studio Theatre. Wells has the rare ability to find humor in ordinary people and here he mines the comedy in the real-life difficulties of his characters with wit and affection. You might well think works such as The Fully Monty, with less music and only a partial monty.
Jumpers for Goalposts is the story of a five-a-side pub league soccer team. What makes the situation unique is that the team plays in a (mostly) LGBT league in northern England. What makes the play special is Wells’ heartwarming humor and charm.
The five members of the aptly-named Barely Athletic team are an inept but entertaining group of struggling adults. Their leader is a determined thirty-something player-coach, Viv (Kimberly Gilbert), who was thrown off of her former lesbian team for being too overbearing. She is sister-in-law to the team’s token straight, Joe (Michael Glenn), who is on the cusp of forty and a recent widower.
The two younger members of the team include shy nineteen-year-old Luke (Liam Forde), who still lives at home and is fancied by Danny (Zdenko Martin). Rounding out crew is a Falstaffian busker named Beardy Geoff who always wears his lucky knit cap and who isn’t above flirting with the opposition.
The story unfolds over the course of a six week season in scenes set in a convincing locker room (another winning set design from Debra Booth).
Anyone who has ever played on an intramural or club sports team will have no trouble relating to the characters and their varying motivations for playing. While Viv genuinely believes in the transformative power of winning a cheap plastic trophy, for others the weekly game is more of a social outlet and for Joe it’s a way to avoid sitting at home grieving.
Being handed the play’s most fully-realized story line, Forde and Martin capture the awkwardness and affection between Tom and Danny.
The talented and versatile Kimberly Gilbert adds another winning portrayal to her acting resumé. Her Viv is a devoted den mother to a group she treats as a surrogate family. While the story of Joe’s grief feels underwritten at times, Gilbert and Michael Glenn forge a persuasive connection.
Finally, there is the uncommonly gifted comedic actor, Jonathan Judge-Russo whose portrayal of Beardy Geoff is a true delight.
Some of the play’s more serious turns feel a little forced or obvious. The story is wrapped up a bit too neatly, topped off with an added dollop of sentiment that borders on the mawkish. The nicely balanced direction of Matt Torney manages to minimize these difficulties.
You don’t need to know a hip shot from a hopped pass to enjoy the universal themes in Studio Theatre’s sympathetic and winning production of Jumpers for Goalposts.
Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Wells . Directed by Matt Torney . Featuring Liam Forde, Kimberly Gilbert, Michael Glenn, Jonathan Judge-Russo and Zdenko Martin . Set Design: Debra Booth . Lighting Design: Michael Giannitti . Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard . Sound Design: Kenny Neal . Dramaturg: Adrien-Alice Hansel . Produced by Studio Theatre Reviewed by Steven McKnight.