Theatre Reviews


Directed By Aaron Snook
Written by Ronan Marra

Produced by Signal Ensemble Theatre

At Signal Ensemble Theatre

A portrait of the people who love the game of the game.

There’s a meta-game surrounding any major sport. It’s the intermingling of players, fans, agents, managers, owners and a host of others  in a complex play of motives and allegiances. It’s sometimes fickle, often dirty and  typically obscured. Such a ‘game’ is at the heart of Signal Ensemble’s debut of Motionby Ronan Marra. It’s a complex but ultimately shallow tale of the world inside and outside a fictional flailing football franchise in Cleveland at a critical juncture for the NFL as a lockout looms over the livelihoods of the people affected.Smarmy and narcissistic Drew (Joe McCauley) is a sports agent peddling his latest blue-chip client, a dynamite but dumb Louisiana fish-out-of-water who’s a deadlock for the number one pick in the pro draft (if he can avoid screwing it up). Drew’s got to go toe-to-toe with his ex wife, Diane (Meredith Bell Alvarez), who has her own troubles trying to make a splash for herself as the new general manager of the troubled Cleveland Rams while appeasing the owner, his son and the fans. All this while millionaires and billionaires threaten to shut the whole thing down if they can’t divvy up a massive money pie to the satisfaction of their greed. Until then, Drew will have to take his star from the end zone to the spin zone and in the process expose the hypocrisy that exists at the core of a game where those “lucky” few called into the upper echelons become not just people but a self-contained business. It’s exploit before you’re exploited and anyone not smart enough to keep up will be left holding the ball.

Motion by Ronan Mara  at Signal Ensmeble

The script by Ronan Marra is full of of pithy characterizations that move the plot along at a breathtaking clip. There’s a lot of players here, each one with conflicting self-interests that can be a bit dizzying to keep pace with. A foreknowledge of football is helpful but not essential: like Shakespeare, if you can’t follow what’s happening, just listen to the tone and you’ll be able to figure out what’s going on. It’s all a bit much, and the cast tries ably but some deliveries come off too rapid for proper digestion while the parade of relationships becomes entangled and threatens to collapse on itself. With each player and relationship getting its own time to shine, not much of anything is able to be deepened to relevance. The gravity of the lockout is too weakly broadcast early on to be satisfyingly tense, and one may get the feeling that a few nips and tucks would tighten and focus the whole on it’s most satisfying aspects.

Motion by Ronan Mara at Signal Ensemble

Vincent L. Lonergan steals every scene he gets with his more-than-just-a-hick-sheriff who resents these small town boys who quickly outgrow the people who got them where they are. McCauley’s Drew is sleazy to the core, and his parrying with Alvarez’s Diane are delightful  to observe. The staging is oddly immersive for a Signal production, eschewing their typical austerity for a miniature football field in which the audience becomes sport spectator to the drama of high-stakes sports management. It too is a a lot of look, and it seems to miniaturize rather than magnify the conflicts by being overly precious.

Fans of Aaron Sorkin (who helped write the recent Moneyball) will delight in the dry dialogue and shrewdness of Motion’s skewering despite the production’s problems. For fans of football, there’s a lot of fun to be had in hearing the behind-the-scenes analysis, as college players must prove they can do more than have a powerful pass. It’d be even more gratifying, then, if these portraits could be as fully analyzed as the plays themselves so that when the stakes are high, we, the eager fans, feel we too have a stake in the outcome.

Somewhat Recommended.

Clint May

Date Reviewed: February 3, 2012

Jeff Recommended

At Signal Ensemble Theater, 1802 W. Berenice Ave, Chicago, IL 60613, call 773.698.7389, tickets $20 ($15 for students/industry/seniors/groups), Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours with a 10 minute intermission, through March 3.

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