MAROONS, by Ray Saraceni, now receiving its world premiere at the Iron Age Theatre, tells not only the story of the Pottsville football team that stormed the National League, and had the NFL title stolen from them; it is about the birth of the sport we know today.
In 1925 football was considered a college game and had not yet achieved the fanatical popularity of baseball. The Maroons were the first truly great professional team. But football was different then. The era’s “leatherhead” outfits were a far cry from the safer uniforms of today, and the game relied much more on gut strength than team strategy. Numerous deaths and severe injuries marked this brutality. What made the Maroons an especially potent team was that the players were literally out of the mines of Northeast Pennsylvania. They cleared the field the way they cleared the coal from the mines. Early on, the team owner introduces a new coach, appealingly underplayed by Anthony M. Giampetro, who uses his college education to devise new ways of gaining touchdowns, such as passing the ball over the heads of the opposing team. The social, financial and cultural problems of the era are all covered as the team achieves its greatest moment: their defeat of the indestructible Notre Dame with Knute Rockne and the “Four Horsemen.”
The all male cast it totally persuasive. The team as played by Chuck Beishi, Adam Altman, Markus Zanders, John Jerbasi, and Doug Greene, are absolutely convincing as football players of the era and as coal miners. Though they don’t actually execute one play, by evening’s end one totally believes they have been through a brutal sports experience. Dave Fiebert and Ed Hughes function well as narrators of the story.
Randall Wise and John Doyle have given this the bare bones treatment: an open stage and a scoreboard. The many locales are created using a few benches, tables and a blackboard. The scenes are effectively staged and the strong, cohesive acting company is a credit to the co-directors.
Playwright Saraceni shows skill with characterization and the addition of a few meaty speeches for the main characters illustrates his years of theatrical experience as an Iron Age performer.
But MAROONS is a frustrating work of theater. An examination of a few plays about sports might explain why. THE GREAT WHITE HOPE is not really about boxing: it is about Jack Johnson’s belief that he can gain respect in a racist world. The authors of DAMN YANKEES are more interested in the Faust legend than baseball. PLAY IT AS IT LIES is about young man who uses golf to attempt a relationship with his father. In other words, live theater uses sports as a backdrop to a human drama.
The problem with MAROONS is that it really is about the team’s story and the birth of professional football. This means that the most interesting and vital scenes are talked about rather than shown on stage. These include:
- The debilitating coal miners strike, and its effect on the community
- The class differences between Notre Dame and Pottsville
- The introduction of the pass
- The skill and resilience of the individuals of the team and their opponents
- All of the great sports moments
This means that the play is a lot of talk. All of the above are discussed and described in devastating detail. Indeed, the most impressive writing in MAROONS involves two men and a desk, as the wily team owners, well played by Luke Moyer and Bill Rahill, attempt to out con each other for the NFL title.
Wouldn’t it be great if this entire cast could participate in a period-accurate movie of the story? As a play, MAROONS leaves too much to the imagination.
MAROONS: THE ANTHRACITE GRIDIRON
by Ray Saraceni
Directed by Randall Wise and John Doyle
November 4-27, 2011
An Iron Age Theatre Production
at The Centre Theater
208 DeKalb Street
Norristown, PA 19401