Ever at a loss for clever insults or winning pick-up lines? You could pick up one of those little hard cover volumes from Urban Outfitters. Or you could quote the greatest English dramatist of all time.
The William Shakespeare solution is the one attempted in “Bardball,” a play by Friendly People Productions for the Herberger Theater Center’s Lunch Time Theater series. In “Bardball and Other Plays,” the Friendly People cast performs three 10- to 15-minute plays, each containing the common element of a not so Shakespearean theme: baseball.
In “Bardball,” by Cindy Brown, a modern-day group of fans at a baseball game are waiting on their actor friend, who’s just been cast in a Shakespeare play. When he arrives, he insists on trying out a few Shakespearean taunts on the umpire. Their initial skepticism notwithstanding, his friends learn the Bard can help out with their attempts at romance as well.
Drew Derrix Templeton’s “The Baseball Connection” tells the story of an elderly woman’s encounter with a boy who’s come to apologize for putting a baseball through her window. As it turns out, she played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the ’40s and ’50s. The two find they each have something to offer the other as baseball helps them bridge the generation gap.
Finally, “A Midsummer Night’s Cold Beverage,” by Julie Peterson, returns to the Shakespeare theme, set around a group of actresses desperate to meet guys. The piece blends the modern day with elements from several Shakespeare plays, including a baseball-themed “Richard III” monologue: “Now is the spring-training of our discontent…”
The set of plays didn’t come about from any particular passion for America’s pastime. Brown wrote “Bardball” first and Friendly People said it would stage the play with Templeton and Peterson agreeing to write accompanying plays. Peterson suggested whoever had an idea first should start writing, and the third person would include an element the first two plays shared. Templeton came up with “The Baseball Connection” first, so a bit of baseball wound up in “A Midsummer Night’s Cold Beverage” as well. Peterson admitted Friendly People isn’t full of the “most baseball-savvy people in the whole world,” but with the help of the internet, spouses, the cast and others they shaped the plays into pieces that could be enjoyed by sports fans and non-fans alike.
Friendly People primarily focuses on producing family-friendly content, but there’s an even simpler explanation for its amiable moniker. When the group was getting started and contacting new members and partners, it made a welcoming first impression.
“For some reason everyone would say, ‘You’re all such friendly people,’” Peterson said. “So as a little bit of a joke we decided to go with that as our name.”
As members of a small local theater company, the folks at Friendly People wear many hats (and not just in costume). Most of the eight actors perform in more than one of the plays, taking on a combined 14 roles. Beyond that, many members contribute to several different parts of the production and performance, from acting to writing to directing. In addition to writing “A Midsummer Night’s Cold Beverage,” Peterson administratively produced the three-play show and helped with set construction. When they’re not working on Friendly People projects, members of the company stay involved with other aspects of the theater world, from teaching to working for the Herberger to writing play reviews.
Beside diverse roles, Friendly People members have a wide range of experience levels. Some are appearing in their first play for Friendly People, while others, such as Peterson, have been with the company since it was founded 11 years ago.
Many of them also have local college and university connections. Cast member Ava Bivens trained at Scottsdale Community College and the University of Arizona. Actor Ashley Miller is set to study theater at Grand Canyon University, and Taissa Zveiter performs and studies acting at Mesa Community College. Barbara Acker, the director, taught acting and voice at ASU’s School of Theatre and Film.
“Bardball and Other Plays,” Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix, 602.254.7399, Tuesday, July 24, to Thursday, August 2, 12:10 p.m., $6