Boocock's House of Baseball
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 30, 2005
Paul Boocock has the uncanny ability to tell his stories using every tool nature has provided him: his body, his voice, the tiny muscles in his face, his intuition, and his use of language. And he makes it look easy—just like the great baseball players, whose stories he uses as a metaphor for our democracy, make the game look easy.
Baseball as a metaphor for politics or life or what-have-you may be as played-out as the game itself, but Boocock manages to breathe some life into this venerable metaphor. He takes the Great American Pastime and reminds us what is so great about it while at the same time reminding us what is great about our way of life and why it's worth fighting for. This is not to say that he makes everything out to be apple pie; he gives the good with the bad, telling his stories with endearing honesty.
He makes a point of showing us that democracy is a balancing act; we balance the needs of the many with those of the few, we swallow our pride for the greater good and we set up checks and balances to help ensure that justice is served. But everyone knows that our democracy does not run like a well-oiled machine. Without a doubt, it is far from perfect. Boocock takes baseball and democracy and shows us how they have survived their share of controversy, bouts with corporatism, and players/politicians with excessive pride. As Boocock says, “This country will survive George W. Bush.” Indeed it will!
The show starts off with Bush in what Boocock calls his “fantasy, dream, nightmare” where Boocock is the owner of the Yankees and Bush is the owner of the Texas Rangers and they’re rubbing elbows at an owners convention. Bush is bragging about his lineup of heavy hitters because “that’s what sells tickets” and Boocock relishes in reminding him of the in-your-face-Mr.-President fact that the Rangers have never won a World Series. But then he turns around and balances this with the fact that the Yankees haven’t won one since Bush took the Presidency.
Boocock’s performance is unswervingly engaging, like driving down a narrow country road. He grabs the audience with this first impression of Bush (the first of many impressions) and doesn’t let go for even a second. So what if his impressions are not necessarily dead-on?—they are nonetheless hilarious and his knowledge of the game and its history is certainly impressive. It’s important to note that you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy the show nor do you have to follow politics closely to catch the connections he’s making to our democracy. Boocock and his director Mary Catherine Burke make the show very accessible and they make it as interesting to watch as it is to hear because Boocock is a tremendous physical actor.
Even though he tells his stories using elements of standup, he doesn’t just stand there and deliver a monologue of parables like a sermon on a pitcher’s mound. Instead he incorporates mime, movement, and dance (not artsy but silly dance). His talent in animating his subjects draws us further into his world. One of his funnier movement bits is his jerky, slightly-faster-than-reality mime of Babe Ruth recorded on early film. And his mime of Jason Giambi bulking up on steroids is a scream.
Movement is also created through Jeff Croiter’s striking lighting, and Jake Hall’s excellent sound design helps to create the atmosphere of each segment. Burke’s direction is a driving force in the flow of the show. She highlights details with alternating subtlety and forcefulness.
There are a couple of ironies that I’m not sure are intentional or not. First is the contradiction between Boocock’s anti-corporatism sentiments and the fact that his favorite team, the Yankees, must be the most corporate team in the league. However, this has not always been the case and I’m sure he’s been a fan since before he knew the meaning of corporatism. So he’s forgiven. Second, several of his stories make the point of overcoming pride for the sake of the team and yet one can’t help but notice that his name, in possessive form, is in front of the title of the show. This seems to run in direct contradiction to the theme of the show. However, perhaps his intention is to parallel baseball’s standard of individual performance within the context of teamwork.
Despite these ironies Boocock’s House of Baseball is a show that you’ll walk away from feeling like you just spent an hour with your funny friend who tells great stories and loves his country. The fact is, between the animation and the intuitive script lies a performer with a lot of heart.