Catherine Young &Shyama Iyer. Photo: Crystal Ludwick Photo for Commonwealth Theater Center
Bowling for Beginners
By Diana Grisanti
Directed by Mitchell Martin
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
They train, they compete, and they win. They get knocked down and get right back up again. Incomparable focus, intelligent strategy, and remarkable skill: this is the stuff that makes college athletes. Diana Grisanti’s Bowling for Beginners shines a light on a champion college bowling team who fight for notoriety and relevance. The Walden Theatre Alumni Company at Commonwealth Theatre Center is a blast to watch with every strike, spare and parallel drawn between college athletics and gender equality.
Playwright Diana Grisanti brings a seemingly obscure sport to center stage. Some might think bowling is not a serious sport, but rather a recreational activity best enjoyed with a few cold ones. Don’t be fooled. Digging deeper into the Zen-like moments of solitude between a player and their ball, moments to “stop thinking and breath” and grow stronger as a team fight to be recognized after a major victory. Just as a field kicker stands before a football and a basketball player prepares for a free throw, this team brings effort, stamina, and skills to this sport. An interactive performance on many levels, the players run through the house of the Nancy Niles Sexton Auditorium and break the fourth wall during a training sequence, all the while smashing the patriarchy.
A team who has just scored a championship season, these “winners no one knows” struggle for recognition among the higher revenue-producing male-driven sports. As an ensemble, the Falcon bowling team of an unnamed college consists of familiar character tropes. Karina (Mary McNeil) is the alpha dog team captain. McNeil gives Karina a fierce competitive nature that enriches her leadership but strays from her teammates. Karina spars with Cassidy (Catherine Young), the transfer from the rival team after last year’s victory. Young provides a face for struggling athletes everywhere who do not fit into a box. She brings Cassidy’s loneliness within a fierce performance.
Ellen (Shyama Iyer) is a naïve first-year student-athlete who chose sports over arts. I enjoyed Iyer’s constant and quite literal dance with pursuing her musical dreams. Riley (Zoe Greenwald) is the star bowler who cannot decide to go pro after college and is at odds with reaching her peak athleticism. Greenwald sets a tone for the production with a reflective and meditative monologue at the top of the show. Mental health concerns are also addressed throughout the production. Pearl (Paula Lockhart) serves as the team’s post-panic attack self-help guru. Lockhart’s stellar comical performance brings extra bite to the already snappy dialogue. Sara (Becca Willenbrink) is distracted by finding love in the sports world. Willenbrink brings lightness to sexual frustration and college flings.
As the Falcons continue to thrive in their post-victory season, they are visited by two separate yet important female figures. Holly (Mackenzie Kasbaum) diligently follows the team and eagerly learns all she can about bowling. Kasbaum shows how Holly finds her own voice in male-driven sports and solidarity with the Falcons. She provides the audience with the necessary rules of bowling without coming across as a mere plot device. Sabrina Spalding is absolutely divine as Bunny, the mysterious figure in a hot pink windbreaker. She brings wisdom, empowerment, and laughs to the spirited Godmother who appears at a moment’s notice.
A play like Bowling for Beginners is important for young actors and audiences. It carefully addresses heavier matters like gender equality and LGBTQA+ issues within collegiate athletics, yet teamwork, self-care, and being true to yourself make a powerful statement throughout the play as well. And with a bright cast of rising young talent, the Alumni Company at Commonwealth Theater Company has definitely scored a strike.
Bowling for Beginners
July 31-Aug 1@ 7:30 pm, Aug 2-3 @ 9:30 pm, Aug 4 @ 7:30 pm
Walden Theatre Alumni Company at
Commonwealth Theater Company
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!