Recreating Keiter: I Saw Dad Make the Whole Thing Up
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
November 2, 2006
There is so much natural conflict in sporting events that it can easily dwarf fictional conflict on the stage. The subject of the new one-woman show, Recreating Keiter: I Saw Dad Make the Whole Thing Up, is Hall of Fame broadcaster Les Keiter. Les was a radio and television broadcaster for over 50 years who witnessed (and called) some of the most incredible baseball and basketball games, boxing matches, and other sporting contests in the second half of the 20th century.
His daughter Cindy Keiter, who is the author and star of Recreating Keiter, creates a warm and very personal love letter to her father in this new piece. Directed by Padraic Lillis, this solo show has a terrific mixed-media element added through the effective use of old televisions strewn about the set that show clips of Les Keiter. It's obvious that Cindy is very passionate about this project as she gets emotional while watching the clips of her father onstage. It is impossible not to be slightly moved by that and there are a lot of nice, tender moments at work here. The play itself, with a very short running time of 60 minutes, has the audience step into Cindy Keiter's living room and watch her talk about her life watching her dad. It's a very intimate work in an intimate setting, and all of that works well.
The problem with the piece, however, is that there really is not a lot of conflict on display—unlike the huge sporting events that Les covered. The biggest hurdle that we see Cindy face is Les's decision to move the family away from Philadelphia (where he was the play-by-play man for the Philadelphia 76ers) to Honolulu in the mid-'60s, and how she copes with that change. But if Cindy had to overcome a grudge, I didn't see her struggle with it that much onstage, which makes things pleasant, but not memorable. Cindy had some anti-Semitic slurs spoken at her in Philadelphia as a kid, but that doesn't appear to be a major problem that she had to overcome either, as it is portrayed on stage. There is an unnecessary plot diversion about Cindy's experiences with her childhood Hawaii friend Laurie, who had bouts with drug abuse, but that element fails to connect without putting a face to the name. It might have been a wiser choice to either leave that part out, or put a picture of Laurie on one of the seven televisions on the set.
The breakout star of the play is actually Les Keiter. The footage of him on the Today show, recreating baseball games that he hasn't actually seen by using box scores and sound effects in a studio, is riveting stuff. The story that Cindy tells about Les climbing into the ring to get an interview with Muhammad Ali right after a boxing match (and beating out Howard Cosell in the process) is fantastic. I admit that I am a sucker for sports stories and I loved learning about Les's remarkable life as a witness and participant in volumes of sports history. He seemed like a colorful character. Truth be told, Les's life story as a broadcaster seems a lot more interesting to me than Cindy's struggle to find herself as an actress in New York. I was hoping to see the piece delve deeper into her relationship with her dad—positive or negative—than I was allowed to see.
Somewhat ironically, seeing Recreating Keiter is like watching an alright television documentary on a Sunday afternoon on your couch. You learn about someone you didn't know much about, you enjoy watching the story but you probably tune out now and then during the hour, and then you go fix yourself a snack. You can be passive about it because it doesn't go too deep beyond the glass screen of the TV, but you can honestly say it was interesting enough that you didn't change the channel.