THE SAVIOR OF FENWAY
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
As far as I can tell, The Savior of Fenway is Brendan Bates’
first play. If so, it’s an auspicious debut. Bates’ play is set in a
blue collar bar in the Boston suburb of Quincy, Massachusetts during the
last two nights of the American League Playoffs. The Red Sox are being
trounced by the Yankees, and their inability to win the pennant is
Bates’ none-too-subtle symbol of the failures of his characters, for
whom the games are a strange masochistic annual ritual.
August 15, 2003
Bates’ protagonist is Walshie, the owner of this establishment, a kind-hearted but fundamentally weak man who masks his disappointment in his life by playing peacemaker for his rowdy friends and customers. Chief among these is Shane McGill, a thoroughly disreputable fellow who, when the play opens, has locked himself in the men’s room after having destroyed a good deal of glassware (including, probably, somebody’s windshield) in fits of anger at the Sox’ bad performance. To call Shane a loose cannon is an understatement; but there’s a flicker of nobility burning inside his grim and gruff exterior, as we learn when he confides in Walshie his desire to become the "savior of Fenway," liberating it from its proposed demolition.
The major conflict of the play centers on Walshie’s young assistant, Patty Lentz, a once-promising baseball star whose college career derailed when his father died. One of Patty’s older brothers is having an affair with Shane’s wife; this leads to a set of serious confrontations involving weapons at the end of each the play’s acts. The best thing about The Savior of Fenway is the way that Bates resolves the situation—I leave it to you to discover exactly what happens, but I will tell you that it’s entirely unexpected and helps differentiate Bates from the numerous Mamet-wannabes whose work dots the dramatic landscape these days.
Savior nonetheless owes debts to the master, in terms of structure (single set; two taut acts—though Bates’ first act could be tighter) and language (lots of four-letter words cast into a kind of poetry; overuse of labels like "bitch" and "faggot," which I could definitely do without). But Bates takes control of the form in the play’s excellent second act, making us eager to see what he might do next.
The cast is exemplary under Michael Laibson’s well-paced direction. Bates plays Shane; Joe Burch plays Shane’s boss Sweeney; John Highsmith is terrific as the tightly-wound Patty; and Nate Meyer (incongruously dressed in tie, vest, and old-fashioned apron) is the conflicted Walshie.