A sprawling story overwhelms in Saint Sebastian’s ambitious ‘Lefties’


lefties

I heartily applaud Saint Sebastian, a spirited storefront company, for taking on Lefties, a highly ambitious world premiere by promising playwright Leigh Johnson.

Johnson, a talented writer with clear passion, has a lot to say about many things, and the things he has to say in Lefties offer huge potential for high dramatic stakes. Set in McCarthy-era America, Lefties explores the themes of communism, socialism, capitalism, redemption, pride, virtue, forgiveness, chasing the American dream, and baseball. To name a few.

Using the framing device of a memory play, Johnson takes us through nearly three decades as a Russian-born father (who’s also an avowed Communist who loves baseball), clashes with his son, a gifted semi-professional pitcher who’s become entranced by capitalism and its prospects. As the show begins, it’s 1975 and the World Series is taking place. Ivana, the family matriarch, has been dead for three years and Vladimir (the father) and Alex (the son) aren’t on good terms. Ivana’s ghost rises from her slumber and demands to know why. By doing so, she relives the events that got her “pig-headed husband” and “stubborn mule son” to the point they’re now at.

It’s a strong concept that, unfortunately, lacks a solid point of view. The two most arresting characters in the show, Vladimir and Alex, are often sidelined while seemingly secondary characters suck up stage time and deliver wordy monologues that repeat the same themes and ideas covered in subsequent scenes. While poor Ivana (the fiercely committed Megan Faye Izzo) rips her heart out onstage, we’re still trying to figure out who she and her family are.

I feel there’s a very powerful play in Lefties once Johnson trims the fat (including two scenes involving baseball talent scouts), hones in on the relationship between Vladimir and Alex, and finds a more engaging and human-scale way to explore the notions of capitalism and communism rather than requiring his cast to engage in dutifully scripted debates that sound like political pundits expounding from talking points.

Despite its issues, under director Jamie Prahl, Saint Sebastian offers a very solid and generally well-acted production that extracts the most potent moments to propel the story forward, including scenes between Ivana, Vladimir and Alex. To avoid adding any excess to this seam-busting play, Prahl keeps the action streamlined, relying heavily on lighting and sound queues (by Eric Vigo and Tom Jasek, respectively) to build tension and direct focus.

“Lefties” plays through March 10 at Saint Sebastian Players. More info here >

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