Back Back Back @ Manhattan Theatre Club @ NY City Center Stage II, New York

cast list
Jeremy Davidson, James Martinez, Michael Mosley

directed by
Daniel Aukin
Itamar Mosess new baseball-themed play Back Back Back is certainly timely.

Spanning three decades, the play follows three major league players, chronicling their involvement over that span of time either directly or indirectly with performance-enhancing drugs.

From the 1980s through to today, scandals involving steroids have been a concern to all fans of the “America’s pasttime” who value the integrity of the game. The controversy surrounding Barry Bonds’s possible drug use, still to be definitively settled in court, is but a recent memory. The problem with this particular play is that the stakes never seem real enough for a play with such a topical message.
Off the bat, we meet Kent, Raul, and Adam, three baseball players on the same major league team. Hotshot Raul, pegged as the dummy of the group, has been using anabolic steroids alongside Kent in order to bulk up and gain strength and speed. Adam, poised to be voted rookie of the year, however, remains on the sidelines. Their relationships evolve and change as the years go by. Raul goes on to write a tell-all book about steroids in baseball, unsettling Kent’s lofty ambitions in the process, and Adam takes the high road and retires from the sport.

Attempts at contextualizing their actions are made. The fixing of the 1919 World Series is mentioned; in contrast, steroids are a distinctly modern deception, and one that’s even more difficult to track, because their use is such an individual violation. “The consequences for breaking the league rules are harsh, but the investment of the characters of Raul and Kent in the game of baseball are never clearly enough defined despite the attempts of the actors.

The performances of James Martinez and Jeremy Davidson, as Raul and Kent respectively, are well-considered. They’re the perfect foils for one another, Raul full of pent-up anger that ever-considerate Kent could barely conceive of. As Adam, Michael Mosley, whose intermittent awkward laughs highlight his character’s relative naivete, is similarly affecting.

The minimalist use of space, with the same bare carpeted stage serving as a locker room, a public platform, and, ultimately, a baseball field (the set design is by David Zinn), is effective. And director Daniel Aukin does his best at keeping the action moving along, inning by inning. Ultimately, however, the plethora of ideas brought up by Moses aren’t explored with the depth necessary to make for a compelling piece of theatre. Back Back Back, which gains momentum in its final scenes, as the characters finally release all their pent-up anger, runs the bases with a fair degree of agility to be sure but stops distinctly short of a home run.

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