Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Playwrights Local and Dobama present “Down By Contact”

CTE is a “neurodegenerative disease found in people with multiple head injuries.” It often occurs in athletes involved in boxing, football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby and soccer, all activities that include the participants being hit in the head, often resulting in concussions.

“CTE cannot currently be diagnosed while a person is alive. The only known diagnosis for occurs by studying the brain tissue after death.”

In 2012, retired National Football League’s Junior Seau committed suicide.  He shot himself in the heart.  It is speculated that he made the conscious choice not to “blow out his brains” because he wanted his brain to be donated to Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, who was doing research on CTE.  

Pressure from the NFL management denounced Omalu’s professional ethics, qualifications and motives and pressured Seau’s son to withdraw his father’s brain from the testing.  In 2013 the research was completed and “the brain pathology report revealed that Seau did have evidence of CTE.”

Down By Contact,” now being performed on the campus of Gilmour Academy, appears to be broadly based on Seau, named Carson Busser in the script, and his deterioration into alcoholism, mood swings, paranoia, lying, behavioral problems, mood swings and cognitive thinking issues including financial irresponsibility. All of these are possible signs of CTE.

It is appropriate that the production is being co-produced by Playwrights Local and Dobama.  “Playwrights Local is dedicated to supporting the dramatists of Northeast Ohio. As a playwrights’ development and production center, they foster diverse talents and present locally written works.” 
Dobama, commonly referred to as Cleveland’s Off-Broadway theatre, has a mission of premiering the best contemporary plays by established and emerging playwrights.”

Les Hunter, the author of “Down By Contact” is a member of the Playwrights GYM at Dobama Theatre and on the Board of Directors of Playwrights Local.  The author’s works have received over 40 productions across the country.

Down By Contact” takes place in the mid-to-late 2000s, about the time that attention was being placed on the physical and mental problems of athletes.  It is set in the Kaides’ mansion in the suburbs of a large, Midwestern city. 

As the story unfolds, we observe as Carson communicates with the ethereal, Trypp, a close football buddy, reliving tales of the past.  He is hyper and erratic in dealing with his wife and son, using escapist and avoidant language.  More and more it becomes obvious that the Carson is paranoid and out of touch with reality.

Carson speaks of “stars exploding,” that “football is a game that runs on money,” and “that there is an enemy inside you.” 

The topic of “Down By Contact” is current and relevant.  The material has many strong scenes, but needs to be refined. 

Some of the speeches are erratic in purpose and intent.  Why the son appears in a Speedo bathing suit and dog collar is not clear.  In several instances, on opening night, it was unclear if the actors were transposing lines or if that was the prepared dialogue.  In addition, the audience seemed unaware when the play was over due to a lack of vocal and idea clarity. 

The performance aspects, especially the character development of John Busser (Carson) were excellent.  His quivering hands, stumbling walking and sometimes slurred speech created a realistic CTE survivor.  The rest of the cast (Corin B. Self (Trypp), Liam Stilson (Tommy) and Margie Zitelli (Kelsey) were acceptable in their character development. 

Capsule judgment: “Down By Contact” exposes the audience to an important present-day issue:  the effects of head trauma on athletes. It also vividly shows the effects of CTE and how the National Football League tried to avoid responsibility for a lack of protection of the players.  The script itself needs some refining and further development.  

Down By Contact” is being performed in the Tudor House at Gilmour Academy, located on SOM Center and Cedar Roads in Gates Mills.  There is a parking lot immediately adjacent to the building.
All of the scheduled performances are sold out, but an additional staging has been added on Thursday, August 30 @ 8 PM.   For information go to www.http://playwrightslocal.org/