Our Greatest Year
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 17, 2011
Our Greatest Year is a sweet, wistful, and poetic new play by Robert Attenweiler, making its debut in the somewhat unlikely surroundings of the Brick's Comic Book Theater Festival. I say somewhat unlikely because while the play features a framing device involving an illustrated comic by Scott Henkle (with animation by Jay Tekus), the concerns of this play—dreams deferred and lost, relationships with parents and between lovers—are not the typical fare of a genre usually associated with kids and action heroes.
The play unfolds during the year 2007, which is the year of the title and which may be meaningful to Cleveland sports fans, for in 2007, all three of Cleveland's major league teams—the Cavaliers (basketball), the Indians (baseball), and the Browns (football) got THIS CLOSE to the pennant or playoffs or whatever, only to stumble at the last minute, dashing fans' cherished hopes. One particular fan—Harvey, a sports writer originally from Cleveland and lately from New York—is the protagonist of Our Greatest Year, which follows him on an extended return to his hometown to care for his ailing father. Accompanying Harvey is Elton, his new wife, and their experiences together, living in his dad's basement while caring for Harvey's father and watching Cleveland's teams soar and then tank, comprise the action of this intimate, touching drama.
Attenweiler interweaves within the domestic story a heap of sports history and trivia, as well as—a little obliquely but very neatly—a glimpse at the origin of a very famous comic book hero (Superman, created by Clevelander Jerry Siegel in the 1930s). The play is filled with Attenweiler's signature poetic language, which does for Ohioans what Tennessee Williams's plays did for Southerners—i.e., makes them both more loquacious and more articulate than the average person, providing a rich and quite beautiful exploration of the extraordinary insights trapped within ordinary mortals.
Our Greatest Year is sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and always unflinchingly honest. It is directed by Anna Brenner, and performed by Attenweiler's frequent collaborator Rebecca Benhayon (as Elton) and Eric Slater (as Harvey). Both give nuanced, deeply felt performances. Henkle's animations are witty and appropriate, and Attenweiler's voiceovers (as all of the characters who speak in the comics sequences) are delightfully understated.
This is Attenweiler's first new work for the stage in a couple of years (disclaimer: NYTE published one of his earlier plays, ...and we all wore leather pants, in Plays and Playwrights 2008). It's great to have him back, and it's great to find him here, offering a harmonious but unusual twist to the comic book theme of this year's annual summer festival at the Brick.