Underdog days of summer

Those Damn Yankees are back at Seacoast Rep
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  July 3, 2007

Conjure, if you will, the defining emotional ethos of the Red Sox Nation of just a few years back: the anguish, the pathos, the desperate and eviscerating hope. I don’t know about you, but I kind of miss all that. No, I’m not saying I’d hand back the 2004 Commissioner’s Trophy, but I’m still a little homesick for the luxurious angst of our old underdog reign. If you, too, ever feel such twinges, my prescription is Seacoast Repertory’s production of the baseball classic Damn Yankees. The Portsmouth company’s buoyant and technically virtuoso show should satisfy any old-order Sox fan who once thought a pennant was worth home, spouse, and soul.

The beloved underdog of Damn Yankees isn’t the Red Sox (although early in the show, an homage of two red socks is quietly clipped to a clothesline), but the Washington Senators inspire just as much pain in the heart and the big belly of middle-aged real-estate agent Joe Boyd (Robert Vernon). He loves his home, his indulgent wife Meg (Jill Deleault), and, presumably, his soul a whole lot, but then the red bow-tied and suspiciously invisible Mr. Applegate (Ed Batchelder, with appropriate unctuousness) offers him a Faustian chance to power-hit his team into the pennant race. It is an opportunity, diabolical or not, that he cannot refuse.

Damn Yankees | Book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop | Music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross | Directed by John McCluggage | Choreography by Kevin R. Hauge | Musical Direction by William Asher | Produced in repertory by the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, in Portsmouth NH | Through Aug 26 | 603.433.4472
At least Joe has the presence of mind (and the real estate background) to insist upon an “escape clause:” If he pulls out of the team on the penultimate day of the regular season, he’s free to keep house, wife, and soul. But in the meantime, he’s a different man: Big Joe Boyd ambles behind a sheet, but it’s Joe Hardy (Michael Stoddard) who emerges — thirty years younger, maybe 80 pounds lighter, and excitingly strapping.

Youth might be wasted on the young, but Stoddard’s magnificent Joe Hardy has the eager, elastic physical energy of an older guy who knows exactly what he’s got when he gets into those 22-year-old sinews. As he comes out from behind that sheet, every flex of every tendon seems to spring with the delight a middle-aged man might rightly feel in joining up with a band of young ballplayers.

And ahhh, those ballplayers. These are boys of summer of another age, back before we had hulking, surly, chemically altered monsters like Barry Bonds polluting the leagues — these guys are fresh-faced, earnest wise-crackers, sweetly lustful for wins and forbidden women. And boy, can they dance! Kevin Hauge’s fabulously athletic choreography has them leaping and spinning all over the place. In the great number “Shoeless Joe” with sports reporter Gloria (the sharp Megan Quinn, versatile and always excellent), they lift her up, step her down, perform a whole bunch of speedy footwork, and slap out intricate percussion patterns on each other’s knees. Whew! What a delight!

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