In 2012, more than a million high school kids played football, but the sport has been hit with criticism in recent years, with mounting evidence of brain injuries and other ills. Liz Shannon Miller capitalizes on the controversy in Clutch, a soap operatic effort short on character and logic, heavy on stale humor and melodrama.
The drama takes place at the funeral of a former athlete, Gordon Beers, who back in the '90s had been injured on the field. He’d gone downhill after that, abandoning his family while nursing his woes in drink. Then, at 50, he killed himself.
At the funeral there’s a standoff between Beers’ daughter, Abby (Phoebe Kuhlman), and a neuroscientist, Dr. Carrie Moss (Dwana White), who’d been corresponding with him about donating his brain to science. Beers died before a formal agreement was reached, so now Moss is asking the family to sign off on the donation.
But Abby, who castigates her dead dad as a no-good drunk, won’t allow it. Her curiosity about Moss’ research is nil. Several times she demands that the scientist — a well-spoken, empathetic woman — “get out,” and at one point refers to the legitimate and potentially life-saving science project as “weird.”
Indeed, as sketched by the playwright, Abby is not only ignorant and rude, she is insufferably self-centered — consumed with letting everyone know, in detail, about the wrongs that had been done to her as a child.
While a writer such as Del Shores or Tracy Letts can take on this kind of neurotic scenario, Miller isn’t in their league. The dialogue is banal. The characters are in service of the plot, which in turn is in service of the message. The two antagonists are set up at opposite ends of the issue. Abby’s position is so illogical and sophistic that it’s impossible to take it seriously.
Underscoring the problems with the writing are Kristina Lloyd’s direction and the craft-less performances, chiefly (but not exclusively) Kuhlman’s; her sole resource for expressing emotion seems to be raising her voice. The venue is a meeting room in Sportsmen's Lodge, so tech values are nonexistent.
White lends a dignified presence to her character. Bobby Neely’s depiction of another guest, who turns out to be the player who fatefully tackled Beers all those years ago, adds a measure of authenticity.
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The Oak Room at Sportsmen's Lodge, 12833 Ventura Blvd., Studio CIty; through May 5. (800) 838-8006, SkyPilotTheatre.com.
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