A couple of years ago, actor and playwright Jeff Daniels recounted an anecdote about his wife’s burgeoning interest in pickleball on talk show Live with Kelly and Ryan.
While he was away filming the TV series American Rust, their discussions revolved around the game, encompassing lessons and dink drills.
“Like Drinking Paint”
“To me, it’s like I’m drinking paint,” he candidly shared with the talk show hosts. “And all of us are drinking paint, and we are getting lessons in drinking paint. That’s what I’m hearing.”
Yet, amidst this, he discerned a creative spark. According to director Ric Goodwin, who is helming Daniels’ production Pickleball, these conversations ignited the idea for a play.
The production premieres this Friday at the Venice Theatre’s Pinkerton Theatre. Given the game’s popularity, additional Saturday matinee performances have been added to the schedule.
Goodwin characterized the play as a sharp-witted comedy. Daniels, he noted, playfully teases a subject that holds sentimental value for its enthusiasts. They’ll likely appreciate the good-natured ribbing, Goodwin added, underscoring that the play encompasses elements of farce and screwball comedy.
A Higher Pickleball Rating
According to Jay Handelman of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the narrative revolves around four characters deeply engrossed in the sport, striving for a higher pickleball rating to secure entry into a tournament overseen by the formidable pickleball champion, Perfect (portrayed by Kathi Faulkner).
Neil Kasanofsky assumes the role of Sheldon, whose gluteus maximus meets an unfortunate fate when his partner, Spike, intercepts a shot, leading to an amusingly impaired gait throughout the performance, as explained by Goodwin.
Daniel Cole embodies Spike, now in search of a new partner to pursue tournament glory. He ultimately pairs with Jimmy Choate, taking on the moniker of Angry John, a character vexed by nearly everything, including self-inflicted court mishaps, Goodwin elucidated. “No one really wants to play with him.”
Lynne Doyle takes on the role of Billie, whose partner’s attempt at a dink shot results in a comical collapse over the net.
A Charismatic Figure
Joseph Giglia embodies Larry, a charismatic figure with an eye for the ladies. “He looks in the mirror and sees the Fonz, but everyone else sees Ted Baxter from the old ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ His goal in playing pickleball is to find women.”
Interestingly, the actors don’t physically engage in the game on stage. It’s all conveyed through pantomime. “You hear the thwacks of the ball hitting the paddle, but everything is done in a kind of Keystone Cops frenetic pantomime,” described Goodwin.
For those unfamiliar with pickleball and its nuances, Goodwin assured that he’s included a helpful primer with essential terms and phrases, ensuring accessibility for novices.
Daniels’ repertoire includes about half a dozen plays that originated at the Purple Rose Theatre Company, an establishment he established in Michigan back in 1991.
The Second Theatre To Stage Pickleball
The theatre’s name pays homage to the Woody Allen film “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” in which Daniels starred. Venice Theatre has previously showcased his works, namely, “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” and “Boom Town.”
“We’re, I believe, only the second theatre to stage Pickleball after Purple Rose did it in 2022,” disclosed Goodwin, who corresponded with Daniels about the prospect of incorporating an intermission.
“He surprised me by emailing me back with a whole new copy that included an intermission in the same spot where I thought we could put one.
And he wished us luck with the production and said he was anxious to hear how it played in a senior community like Venice.”
Pickleball is written by Jeff Daniels and directed by Ric Goodwin.
It runs from October 27 to November 19 at Venice Theatre’s Pinkerton Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Avenue, Venice.
Tickets are $35, $22 for college students, and $15 for younger visitors.
Call 941-488-1115 or go to venicetheatre.org.
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