There have been some great plays set in locker rooms that lay bare the anxieties underlying men’s lives. After all, the sports locker room is the archetypical site of respite from the male-male combat by which is contested one’s MQ—masculinity quotient. David Storey’s 1971 rugby-team play The Changing Room comes to mind as does Richard Greenberg’s 2002 baseball-team drama Take Me Out, which undressed gay panic in the shower room before our eyes.
But no play has taken us inside a lads’ locker room with quite the naked candor of Tom Wells’s Jumpers for Goalposts, a sweet, side-splittingly funny, and subversive romantic comedy just opened at The Studio Theatre. Already a hit in England (Wells’s homeland), Jumpers for Goalposts is getting its U.S. premiere in a production directed by Matt Torney that will knock your sweat socks off.
The title, Jumpers for Goalposts, refers to items of clothing placed on the ground as make-believe goal posts in the loose associations of amateur football teams (we say soccer) that are popular in England. And the script’s fearless spunk starts right off with its quirky cast of characters: four men and one woman who comprise a ragtag team called Barely Athletic in an LGBT soccer league.
Three of the men are single and gay—shy Luke (Liam Forde), burly bear Geoff (Jonathan Judge-Russo), and post-twink Danny (Zdenko Martin). One of the men, the token straight Joe (Michael Glenn), is recently widowed. The woman, tough and tenacious Viv (the ever awesome Kimberly Gilbert), is lesbian. These mates play against, and usually lose to, a league of other teams that includes one that’s lesbian, one that’s uberbutch, and one that’s trans.
This is not your father’s half-time hangout.
If you happen to be tracking Wells’s upending of locker room tropes, you can’t help but notice that all the guys are unabashedly nonathletic. They accept that fact of below-peer prowess in themselves and one another; they’re not crippled by shame about it; they don’t deride one other about it with oneupsmanship slurs.
Moreover these men are uniformly nonmisogynistic. Their leader, Viv, not only coaches them but plays alongside them. At a time when having a girl play on any boys’ team fuels hand-wringing furor across the land, Viv’s being a team player goes utterly unremarked.
Viv tries valiantly to inspire them to do their best. She urges Joe, who’s turning forty, to get back in shape. In a delightful bit she consults a “For Dummies” book about how to coach sports to youngsters. Viv believes in Luke, Geoff, Danny, and Joe more than they believe in themselves. And though she sincerely wants them to stop losing, she never upbraids them for their failures on the field by calling them names from male coaches’ catalog of femiphobic insults. Nor do the guys ever diss her for being female or crack femiphobic jokes about her.
Tom Wells left all that stuff out. And funnily enough, we don’t miss it. Because funnily enough, Tom Wells has got something better going on—a wholly original angle of vision that, besides being laugh-out-loud hilarious, is heartwarming and liberating.
Costume Designer Kathleen Geldard has made the cast’s multiple changes of street and sports clothes an amusing anti-fashion show. Sound Designer Kenny Neal has nailed Barely Athletic’s agony of defeat in each successive score-keeping announcement. Dialect Coach Gary Logan has credibly transported the cast of characters to just outside Hull, the playwright’s hometown. (American ears may need to adjust a bit, and there’s no glossary of slang at hand.) Set Designer Debra Booth’s splendidly specific locker room exudes a rank and gamey familiarity that could prompt an anxiety flareup of athletes’ foot from just looking at it. And Lighting Designer Michael Giannitti casts an unflinching glare on the place and strikingly punctuates scenes with “OMG what happens next?” blackouts.
I spoke above of liberation, and I want to make something clear. Tom Wells has not written a gay liberation play. He has not even written a gay play. His characters live ordinary lives; they’re are not habitués of any gay scene. Instead Tom Wells has written a play that lets us in on a level of vulnerability and longing beneath masculine social posturing that is rarely seen as such in life, and he has brilliantly made it visible on stage—and Studio Theatre has now introduced this insightful young writer to a country with one of the most aggressive cults of masculinity in the world.
Jumpers for Goalposts is an incandescent comedy that gives audiences the great gift of liberating the imagination from the constraints of conventional manhood. As such Jumpers for Goalposts goes beyond liberation to redemption and scores a victory for us all.
Running Time: About one hour 50 minutes, with no intermission.
Jumpers for Goalposts plays through June 21, 2015 at Studio Theatre’s Metheny Theatre – 1501 14th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.