‘Bleacher Bums’ comes to Naperville at Brightside

Left to right, top row, Jay Fontanetta, Todd Aiello, Victor Polites, Judith Laughlin; middle row, Ben Greenberg, Tom Schneider, Tin Penavic, Jennifer Torchia, Jim Heatherly; and bottom row, Frank Menolascino.
Left to right, top row, Jay Fontanetta, Todd Aiello, Victor Polites, Judith Laughlin; middle row, Ben Greenberg, Tom Schneider, Tin Penavic, Jennifer Torchia, Jim Heatherly; and bottom row, Frank Menolascino.

Even though it was written almost 40 years ago, some things about the play “Bleacher Bums” never change. The Chicago Cubs are still the Cubs, and its fans are still as loyal as ever.

BrightSide Theatre of Naperville presents the slice of life baseball comedy “Bleacher Bums” just in time for opening day. Written by actor Joe Mantegna and the Organic Theatre Company in 1977, it plays at North Central College March 20 to 30. Show times are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays at the Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall. “Bleacher Bums” is directed by Greg Kolack.

This is the fourth time he’s done the show; he previously directed, acted in and was involved with the production crew.

“This is a show I know really well. It seems like a simple show on the surface, but it’s really tricky,” he said. “Having done it before prepared me for the problems of the show. They’re the same problems all over again, but this time I’m prepared and now how to handle them.”

The play, which has been updated several times and is now set in 1998, is a nine-inning baseball game against the hated St. Louis Cardinals. The actors have to memorize a baseball game while keeping up with their lines.

“There are always like three or four conversations going on at once,” he said. “So not only are they memorizing the lines, they’re memorizing an entire baseball game pitch by pitch. So say any time the ball is hit to left field, the whole cast has to follow the ball to left field. If it’s a double play, they have to follow the ball from shortstop to second to first. That’s really tricky because if you have eight people onstage watching a baseball game and they’re not looking at the exact same spot following the play, it makes no sense. Anybody who does it the first time will always say, ‘This is the most difficult show I’ve ever had to memorize in my entire life.’”

The show is a love letter to not only the Cubbies but its fans, he said.

“It’s (about) the eternal optimist. The funny thing is, the show was written 38 years ago and since it was written, the Cubs still haven’t gotten into the World Series,” Kolack said. “It’s more about Cubs fans than the Cubs themselves, and why they put themselves through torture each year.”

Characters include the gambler, the sun worshipper, the geek and a blind man who brings his transistor radio.

“You’ve got a bunch of people who probably wouldn’t give each other the time of day outside Wrigley Field,” he said. “They’re friends because they sit in the bleachers together. The analogy I’ve been using is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys. Here are all these people who have no business knowing each other, but they’re friends in the bleachers. It’s a group of people who find friendship … with the most diverse group you could ever imagine, and the one thing they have in common is the Cubs.”

He thinks people will be able to relate the play, especially with the 2014 baseball season at hand.

“There’s a lot of humor in it. It’s really funny. But it takes a very serious turn at the end that is totally unexpected, so I think people will feel for that moment in the show,” he said. “I think anybody who’s ever been a Cubs fan will relate to it and maybe see themselves in one of the characters.”

The cast includes Todd Aiello of Chicago, Jay Fontanetta of Lombard, Ben Greenberg of Naperville, Jim Heatherly of Bloomingdale, Judith Laughlin of Wheaton, Frank Menolascino of Melrose Park, Tin Penavic of Downers Grove, Victor Polites of Oak Park, Tom Schneider of Chicago and Jennifer Torchia of Lombard.

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