Confession time: I began my journalism "career" as a sportswriter. Really. High school, college — my first professional assignment was part of a package covering the epoch-marking death of Roberto Clemente. So when Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co. trumpeted a new one-woman show about "a sports commentator [who] returns to her hometown ... and reminisces about ... her life between the Pirates' 1971 World Series win and the New Year's Eve 1972 death of ... Clemente," my little ears perked up. Russ Babines' The Great One sounded like something I might recognize.
In a very alternate universe.
The good news is that the company's multimedia production is dazzling. Director Don DiGiulio and his design team deftly move the action through time and space with projections, lighting and sound. Respectively, Carolina Loyola-Garcia, Bob Steineck and Mark Whitehead deserve applause, along with Diane Melchitsky's multi-part set (though the Roberto "painting" should have been discarded).
Great also defines this solo performance of Tressa Glover, who portrays the central character, Molly, as well as Molly's childhood friends, mostly boys. Those who admired Glover's energy in City Theatre's Charles Ives Take Me Home can savor that spark again, served with even more versatility. For most of this 80-minute coming-of-age one-act, she portrays hyperactive 13-year-olds just getting a look at puberty and life.
Unfortunately, the script has more credibility gaps than the Johnson and Nixon administrations combined. How does the second daughter of a four-child family have her own room with everyone scrunched inside a Levittown-style ranch? The playmates more resemble The Little Rascals than Pittsburgh (Etna?) kids. But the biggest hole is at the climax, when the adult Molly claims that her best friend "made me a better person." Huh. The play opens with Molly as a "successful" adult who blows off her kids, her husband and the awards she somehow garners — i.e., she's the very portrait of the self-spoiled solipsistic jerk that we later see her Cleaver-clone parents strove to avoid.
Sports in general and baseball in particular are likewise tangential to The Great One. And if you're curious, the legendary Pirate right fielder is little more than an occasionally false, and often forced, plot device.