Sunday, November 22, 2009

Browns Rules

Browns not only fumble at stadium, but at CPT

As evidenced in the world premiere of ‘BROWNS RULES’ by local playwright Eric Schmiedl, our local football team doesn’t come out much better on stage than on the field. The script, like the team’s play book, is weak in many parts, and though the cast tries hard, the final product doesn’t score enough to be a winner. Director Bill Hoffman’s lack of clarity of purpose simply doesn’t give the actors the needed guidance, seemingly paralleling the actions of the Browns’ coach Eric Mangini (Boo!).

Staged on a creative brown and orange locker room set designed by Curtis Young, the script attempts to deal with the history of the modern Browns, starting with the 1945 team headed by Paul Brown. How did the team get its name? In a contest, the moniker Browns was selected, but the coach, Paul Brown objected, so the name Panthers was chosen. That identification was dropped because a local businessman already owned that name of an earlier failed local football team. So, Browns was the moniker and the Brownie Elf the logo. It remained so until Art Modell (Boo!) did away with the Brownie in the mid-1960s, believing it to be too childish. Its use has been revived under the current ownership. (Hurrah!)

The team became a success and dominated the All-America Football Conference. There were ups and downs, mostly ups with championships, and the eras of Jim Brown, Brian Sipe, The Kardiac Kids and Bernie Kosar. Then the worst of the worst happened. Team owner Art Modell (Boo!) announced on November 6, 1995, that he had signed a deal to relocate the Browns to Baltimore (Boo!). However, in February 1996, the National Football League caved in to media and litigation pressures by announcing that the team would merely be 'deactivated' for three years, and that a new stadium would be built for a new "reactivated" Cleveland Browns (Hurrah!). Unfortunately, the present team is a mere shadow of the “old” Browns.

The show’s title comes from a skit in which audience members are asked to submit the “rules” that must be followed to be a Browns’ fan. The entries are then read by the lighting/sound person amidst cheers and moans from the audience and the cast.

Schmiedl does a nice job of creating songs that highlight the highs and lows of the history of, and being a fan of, the brown and orange. If he had stuck to only that, he would have been fine. Unfortunately, he added an embarrassing interview with a senile old man, a lame section on Browns’ backers clubs around the world and a pathetic segment on superstitions. There was also some improv which often didn’t work. It’s not clear how much of that was actually in the script or was “actors gone wild.”

The show is too long. Maybe a ninety-minute, no intermission version might have worked. In fact, Schmiedl could probably get bookings at the many, many Browns backers clubs around the world if he went that route.

Clever songs included “Automatic Otto,” “With You,” and “All Night, All Day.” Others like, “Let’s Eat” and “That’s the Way It Is,” were weak. The music varied from rock, to polka, ballad and nationality music, echoing the ethnicity of the city.

The cast, which included Schmiedl, Nathan Lilly and Nick Koesters, put out full effort; however, Hoffman, seemed unable to clearly keep them on track and under control, especially Koesters. Koesters, one of my favorite local actors, was just too over the top in this production. He displayed no restraint. Energy is good, blatant overacting and “eating the scenery” is not.

Schmiedl has a nice charm, Lily has a wonderfully mobile face and an engaging singing voice. But, there seemed to be no clear motivation for some of their actions.

The band, Joe Milan, Eric Percherkiewicz and Bill Hoffman are good, but often get carried away and drown out the singers, who, because of the poor acoustics in the theatre are hard enough to hear, as is.

The audience on the night I saw the show was very vocal. They actually created a football game like atmosphere, making the material look better than it is. Was that caused by the beer sold before the show and during intermission, or just unbridled enthusiasm?

Capsule judgement: How can you not love a football team with an Elf for a logo? Well, the present Browns and ‘BROWNS RULES’ give reasons to not show much affection.