Just in time for baseball season, the Chicago Cubs fans-inspired comedy "Bleacher Bums" opens on April 12 at Colorado Mountain College in Spring Valley.
Populated with rabid fans who make the pilgrimage to the cheap seats at Wrigley Field for every home game, "Bleacher Bums" celebrates the hilarity and heartbreak of rooting for a doomed sports team. From placing outrageous bets to honoring deep-rooted superstitions, this play's misfit group of die-hards will do anything to see their beloved Cubbies win.
Gary Ketzenbarger, the play's director and also director of the college's theater program, chose the piece to involve a large number of students and to engage the audience in "the most raucous play to date" at CMC Theatre. "We're even planning to have vendors walking the aisles, to create the atmosphere of a ball game," Ketzenbarger said.
Conceived by Joe Mantegna, "Bleacher Bums" was written collaboratively by a group of improvisational actors at Chicago's Organic Theatre Company. The nine-inning comedy first hit the stage in 1977 and was immediately heralded as a home run hit.
CMC student actor Jarrod Majkut welcomed the challenge of performing in a play born from the chaos of improvisation. "A lot of the lines overlap," he said. "So the timing is critical, and we all have to keep our energy up, even when the focus isn't on us."
Shelby Lathrop, who plays Melody, agreed. "Because this play is so rapid-fire," she said, "we have to be very precise."
Another challenge of the piece, according to actor (and adjunct theater instructor) Brad Moore, is that it calls on the student actors to play characters that may fall outside their comfort zones - both in behavior and in age.
Lathrop said she finds her role especially demanding because the bombshell she portrays is radically against type for her. "I used to have black hair with a pink streak," she said, "and now I've dyed my hair blond. I even had to get a spray tan."
To help the student and community performers understand the essence of the quintessential Cubs fan, Ketzenbarger invited Mike Wells, valley local and former principal of Glenwood Springs High School, to talk to the group.
Wells, a Chicago native and longtime Cubs fan, shared the futile joy of following a team that almost never wins. The cast was particularly impressed by some of the fun facts Wells shared about the world-shaking events that have occurred since the Cubs won a World Series.
Hint: Both radio and TV came into existence during the years after the big event.
"We learned that Cubs fans are fanatical," said student actor Cody Hill. "At the bottom of the eighth and ninth innings, they go crazy. Even when their team has no chance."
Actor Bella Barnum summed up the energy of the ensemble piece as driven by "pure Cubby power." Barnum, a CMC theater student, plays a cheerleader who makes the zealotry of televangelists look tame.
Community actor Todd Ambrose, who describes himself as "young at heart," has particularly enjoyed working with the team of student actors.
"I'm growing as this play grows," he said. "I haven't been on stage for a long time, so it can be nerve-wracking. But I love the organic nature of this play, and the energy of all the students."
The play features students Graeme Duke, Lathrop, Hill, Barnum, Paige Ulmer, Jason Cirkovic, Jarrod Majkut, Rebekah Naiditch, Alicia Sapp and David Collier, as well as local talents Chris Walsh, Ambrose, Moore and J.D. Miller.
"Bleacher Bums" will be performed April 12-13 and 18-20 at 7 p.m., with matinees April 14 and 21 at 2 p.m. in the New Space Theatre at Colorado Mountain College in Spring Valley.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, seniors, staff and faculty and can be reserved via firstname.lastname@example.org or 947-8177. They can also be purchased with cash or check at the door.