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Back Row, L-R: Jack Schultz, James Sloyan, Stephen Roberts, Peter Virgo, Jr., Nicholas Lewis, Paul Henry Itkin, Andy Robinson, Charles Cyphers, Tom Bower, Allen Williams, James O'Connell, Don Plumley, Bert Conway

Front Row, L-R: Marc Plastrick, Sean Fallon Walsh, Carlo Mancini, Michael McGuire, Redmond Gleeson, Anthony Palmer, Lawrason Driscoll, Mark Jenkins, Jay Varela

- WINNER, 1976 L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award:
Direction (William Devane)

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L.A. TIMES, Monday, March 29, 1976

Looking In on a Locker Room
Times Theater Critic

Audiences of the early 1900s were thrilled when someone in a David Belasco play would turn on a faucet and real water would come out. But we, we say, are beyond that. Leave that sort of tinpot realism to the movies. Theater isn't facts, it's truth.

It sounds very grown up. But some part of us is still Alice, wishing we could walk through the mirror into that other room. "The Kitchen" at the Oxford Playhouse spoke to that wish last season, putting us in the middle of a hotel kitchen before, during and after the luncheon rush. If we'd ever been curious about what went on behind those swinging doors, we found out, on the pulse. If we'd ever worked back there, it all came back. The experience was truth enough.

David Storey's "The Changing Room" at the Odyssey Theater (presented by Actors for Themselves, the group behind "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?") is this year's "The Kitchen." This time we're sitting on a bench in the locker room of an English football (rugby) team as they suit up for the game, drag themselves in at the half and get dressed afterwards for home.

Nothing remarkable happens. This is not the Big Game beloved in sports fiction, just the regular weekend one. And these are not the British equivalent of the L.A. Rams, simply working-class guys who pick up some extra money by playing together. (Not all of them even like the sport.) They play's action is nil—one player (Lawrason Driscoll) gets a broken nose and that's it—and if you want to see it as a metaphor of something, that's your doing, not Storey's. He has played a lot of football himself (see his novel, "The Sporting Life") and this is simply his memory of an average afternoon.

As in "The Kitchen" we get caught up in the rigmarole and the rhythm of the job these people are here to do. The men drift in, chat, slowly—reluctantly, it almost seems for some—hang their clothes on a hook (no individual lockers here). But as they duck into their striped jerseys and pull on their shorts they feel themselves slowly becoming football players, something more than they were when they came in—part of something.

Their exhaustion at the half doesn't interrupt some .current of exhilaration from the to-and-fro of the game, This comes to its peak when the game is over (they won!) and the larking starts. Last week's sports page had an article by a woman sportswriter on the kind of silliness-she wasn't putting if down—that breaks out in locker rooms after a win. That's in "The Changing Room," and sa is the slow deflation as these temporary titans put on their stocking caps and walk back home to the Missus and kiddies—after a pint or two at the local, of course.

If Wesker was pointing an accusing Marxist finger in "The Kitchen," Storey is basically celebrating what he seems to take as a healthy ritual, even if the society behind it is sick. The club is owned by a rather fatuous old codger who roams around the dressing room saying dumb things (Stephen Roberts), but this is no villain, like the hotel owner in "The Kitchen." Clearly football is- a good thing for these men, one of the few meaningful things in their lives, and this is the guy who lets them play it. Read as a metaphor for England's class system, it's a surprisingly conservative play.

But, as indicated, the metaphor hunting is optional. Basically "The Changing Room" is a vicarious experience, allowing the viewer a visceral hint of what athletes—even weekend athletes—go through and what they get out of it. If a visitor from Mars wanted to know what this team-sport business was all about, this is the play you would take him to.

Bill Devane's production at the Odyssey has most of what it needs in matters like rhythm, pace, easiness of interplay. The cast simply needs a bit more experience to make the flow absolutely spontaneous.

A more serious criticism—though this may come too— is that we're not absolutely sure in every case what kind of home this guy comes from when he isn't playing, whether he's in it more for the bread or for the fun, what this afternoon means in relation to the rest of his week. Storey doesn't provide that much information in the script himself, but if the actors don't invent a very specific identity for themselves the play gets a bit like a mob scene.

To cast a young man as a team captain just over the hill (Andrew Robinson) and a lithe-alert one as a slow-thinking hulk (Driscoll) also seems a bit self-defeating. Surely those hints that Storey does give as to characterization should be followed up.

Still it's a strong ensemble effort—Michael McGuire as the talkative Walshy and Bert Conway as the fussy club secretary MacKendrick are especially effective—and Barry Robison's streaked setting puts you there. NB—a locker room play will have a lot of nudity, so don't say you weren't warned. "The Changing Room" is vivid theater.

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