There is nothing in any book of rules that suggests that a play about baseball should give you the thrill of the game. But a play about anything should give you a thrill of some kind.
David Higgins’ “Bonu$ Baby” at the Victory Theatre in Burbank doesn’t. Some of the problem is in the play, some in the production. They combine to deliver much talk and little action.
This is a back room play. It focuses on a young ball player, Artie, and all the shenanigans that surround his incipient rise to fame (including consideration of a signing bonus that would make Artie the bonus baby of the title), but it does it mostly through lots of conversation. The kid is about to be signed by a significant team. He has a reputation for wildness that may or may not stand in his way. His coach thinks it won’t. And since it appears the kid is having an affair with the coach’s daughter, you know who’s side he’s going to be on.
Higgins’ play is not quite that uncomplicated. It has a nice couple of scenes in the second act that make it almost worth sitting through the first act (we won’t divulge their content). But by then it’s too little too late.
Act I is divided into two sets of conversations: One between the team scout Charlie (Tom Simcox) and the coach, Hollie (Tom Bower), as they sit around a table in the back room of Milt Galloway’s Bar in Oakland--and the other between the kid Artie (Kevin Holczer) and his girl-friend Tracy (Karen Person), the coach’s daughter, as they sit around his unfinished bedroom talking about cabbages and kings and mothers and fathers and maybe getting married.
The year is 1964 and D. Martyn Bookwalter’s crowded two-part set--house and bar--reflects it. But the action is static, swinging like a slow pendulum from one side of the set--or one locale--to the other.
There are two more characters who drift in and out of that back room in Milt’s bar: Milt himself (Jack Andreozzi) and Hollie’s friend Sid (Charles Cyphers) an old-time veteran reporter. Neither is essential to the play nor vivid enough as written to be justified as local color.
Beyond the problems in Higgins’ script are the problems in the production. Director James Gammon does not maximize its potential. He extracts little juice from the chauvinistic jock talk which merely feels excessive and, in the mouths of some of the less experienced actors, even phony.
The play’s tempo slouches when it doesn’t sag. Cues and blackouts are slow. Andreozzi seems ill at ease as Milt. The script gives Cyphers, a strong actor, too little to contribute as the seasoned ink-stained wretch.
There is no chemistry to speak of between Person and Holczer (a late replacement in the role). All the talk we hear about Artie’s rebellious nature is dispelled by Holczer’s tentative presence. And all the talk we hear about Tracy’s fighting spirit (and her reported actions later in the play) dissolves before Person’s laid-back performance.
Only Tom Bower as Hollie, and to a lesser degree Simcox as the scout Charlie, are on target. Bower is the linchpin of the play and carries it to the finish in a delightfully understated manner that makes the surprises he delivers at the end all the more effective.
But Higgins should take another look at his script. Too much of it is not compelling, cluttered with extraneous material and incomplete thoughts. (Why, for instance, is Artie’s house unfinished? And why is the painting above the bed, if it must be there, not attributed to his father?) Above all, however, it’s the action that’s missing. It doesn’t do just to talk about what’s happened or is happening. We need to see it on stage.
At 3326 Victory Blvd. in Burbank, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; indefinitely. Tickets: $14.50-$17; (213) 465-0070 or (818) 843-9253).