This is the story of Gordon Beers, an ex-NFL wide receiver whose life off the field overshadowed his play on it.
The play takes place at the funeral after his suicide.
Not only is Miller’s material ripped from the headlines, but it underscores the dangers of a sport which some see as caring more about quarterback sacks than head cracks.
Given the morally bankrupt stadium deals in Arlington, TX and Rutherford, NJ, etc., Miller goes on to say in the play, and the scores of domestic violence cases now finding the breath of day, the league has more reasons to reform than a converted sinner.
The language is vibrant, electric and specific, which is much harder than it appears for the writer..
This is no fairytale. It is a tragic saga of a man who, as good as he was on the field, was as questionable and unstable off of it.
The gridiron may have been paved in gold for Beers, but the moment he walked off of it, it was as dark as Beelzebub’s hell.
The way in which the story is told, from the eyes of Beers’ estranged family, a neuroscientist, a fantasy football addict and the man who knocked Beers out of the game, is a welcome and uncommon twist that does nothing less than engage the audience on an emotional, psychological and spiritual level that other creative works covering the same subject matter often do not.
Kristina Lloyd’s direction adds imagination and substance to the proceedings. The action adds to the words and vice versa.
The UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television summa cum laude has been directing professionally in Los Angeles since 2001. And it shows.
Her intelligence and instinct are well on display here as she does not stand in the way of the stellar cast.
Stand outs include:
Ellen Rae Littman (sister) who displays a deep well of acting knowledge and experience in an accurate and convincing turn as Beers’ sister. The veteran actress makes each moment on stage matter even when the focus is not on her. This is a bravura performance by a dedicated thespian.
Henry Knotts (cousin) almost walks away with the play as the naturalistic fantasy football addict. Knotts’ portrayal is unique in spirit and sacrifice. With hands in back pockets, Knotts grabs the play by the throat and never lets go. The mix of humor and tragedy, much like the play itself, make for compelling theatre. This is an actor to watch over the coming years.
But is is Phoebe Kuhlman (daughter) who steals the show with a performance both parts disciplined and free. As the lynchpin of the play, the Boston College graduate rules the stage with sensitivity, courage and conviction.
Her daughter is so fierce and single-minded that the character frightens and inspires at the same time.
The theatre veteran is, simply put, one of the strongest and most dedicated actresses working on stage in Los Angeles today. She is seemingly always motivated and in the moment and never strays from tackling the next obstacle, whatever it may be.
This critic hopes to see her on the boards of Studio City or Los Angeles again soon.
All in all, “Clutch,” named after Beers’ performances on the gridiron, is a sincere, authentic, but these days, all too familiar look at one family’s heartache and heartbreak.
In reality, Beers death most closely resembles that of linebacker extraordinaire Junior Seau, who also died of an apparent suicide after many All-Pro seasons in the NFL, mostly with the San Diego Chargers.
That this pain and anguish is caused by playing professional football makes for a fascinating, eye-opening but sobering play that often leaves you questioning the NFL’s methodology and logic.
Sky Pilot deserves credit for taking on such a controversial yet timely subject with relish, vigor and passion.
We, the audience, are the better for it.
Monday and Tuesdays at 8pm.
Information/Admission: (800) 838-3006
Where: The Oak Room at the Sportsmen’s Lodge Event Center (next to River Rock Lounge). 12833 Ventura Blvd. (At Coldwater Canyon), Studio City, CA 91604.
Photo - Bobby Neely and Phoebe Kuhlman