The extreme pressure on sports teams’ coaches to win is familiar subject matter for Triangle residents, as is the possibility for abusive behavior from those coaches in attempting those wins.
Chapel Hill-based playwright Mark Cornell’s “Two Turtle Doves” looks at the effects of that pressure on the coach of a small-town girls’ high school basketball team. Common Ground Theatre’s world premiere production raises important questions in an intense staging but the script, acting and direction all have problem areas.
James’ world is coming apart. His wife has left him and his team is on a losing streak that threatens his job. And now he’s in a relationship with Meredith, his 23-year old assistant coach who was on his team all through high school.
They’ve flown to a hotel in Hawaii for Christmas but his plans for a carefree week are going awry. His athletic director calls about a team member’s suicide attempt because of James’ verbal and mental abuse. As James packs to go back, Meredith tells him she was also deeply disturbed by his harsh treatment. James defends his methods, reminding her they made great players and won games.
Over the show’s 80 minutes, revelations mount up, adding shades of gray to a seemingly black-and-white situation. Cornell doesn’t allow either character to be villain or hero, especially as their current motivations and past indiscretions surface. Cornell leavens the drama with situational humor and throws in some amusing plot twists.
Jaybird O’Berski uses his veteran skills to portray James’ frustration, anger and guilt, while Alice Rose Turner makes a believable small town girl looking for love and acceptance. But on opening night, O’Berski did not seem entirely at ease in the role and Turner’s pouty, languid characterization seemed too immature for an assistant coach.
First-time director Shelby Hahn’s good pacing and lively blocking is undercut by a constant wavering between comedic antics and in-your-face dramatics. He’s also allowed Turner’s moody slouching to affect the clarity of her lines.
Cornell’s script gets repetitive during the couple’s arguments and his resolution of the situation seems an easy way out of a serious ethical dilemma.
Still, the production is thought provoking enough to warrant a visit, with the understanding that there are flaws that need revisiting.
What: “Two Turtle Doves”
Where: Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Road, Durham
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 4-5 and Nov. 10-12
Tickets: $16 (seniors $14, students $12)
Info: 919-384-7817 or cgtheatre.com