Ten years ago, I was at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. A quick getaway day off from the Sterling Renaissance Festival. We would browse the many exhibits over the course of a few hours soaking in the history of America’s pastime before heading back to the woods. I knew it was going to be a good day when Yogi Berra was quietly walking down a side street with his wife. This was the week prior to the induction ceremony. The Red Sox’ Wade Boggs and the Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg were getting the nod.
We gawked and chewed the fat until stumbling upon a discussion with legendary sportswriter Frank Deford. He was speaking about his latest book ‘The Old Ball Game’, focusing on the odd couple pairing of the pristine New York Giants pitching great Christy Mathewson and his rough and tumble manager, ‘Little Napoleon’ John McGraw.
During the talk, Deford referenced a quote by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who called McGraw “the real and authentic Most Remarkable Man in America… there is no denying he played us both right off the stage.”
And this began ten years of my life thinking about these two extraordinary characters.
Two things immediately sprung to mind. 1) Shaw was a notorious pot stirrer, so you know his tongue was firmly in cheek when he wrote this, & 2) McGraw had a showman streak. During the Q&A, I asked Deford if anything ever came of that quote, as in “did McGraw seek Shaw out and get in his face like he would an umpire, or an opposing player, or one of his own players, or a dog?”
Deford answered no.
And thus ‘The Double Play’ was born, which started simply as answering the question of what would happen if McGraw found Shaw after reading this quote in London’s Evening Standard in November of 1924.
Since I was only one year removed from graduate school, I decided to put my Dramaturgical skills to use. The SUNY Oswego library allowed the Festival performers to take books out. The research commenced.
McGraw made $3000 per week on the vaudeville circuit in the offseason.
This was SO MUCH information contained within one sentence.
I had practically read the Shavian canon in grad school so I was pretty well versed in the writings of G.B.S. at the time. I started writing dialogue between these two giants (one of which was a Giant – the manager of the Giants anyway). Lots of debate about theatre and baseball. How were they the same and how were they different.
Dialogue about baseball and theatre. This is pretty much all I know.
The time came to put them in a setting. Where would be the least likely place you would find George Bernard Shaw – especially if he didn’t want to be found.
Well, he was a vegetarian.
And he didn’t drink alcohol.
So let’s put him in a pub!
That meant someone had to be the barkeep. I love the character of Pegeen Mike (Margaret Flaherty) in John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, so the barkeep became female. As the dialogue continued, I realized I had a bit of a commedia dell’Arte scenario forming with two vecchi and a servatte…or was she an innamorati?
I decided to add an innamorato.
And thus, ‘The Double Play’ became a four character play. Until some conflict (or do I mean comic relief) was needed, so I added a goon (we can call him a Capitano if we want, but he is no rival to the heart of the innamorati).
The play took two years to complete.
That was 2007.
What year is this? Oh…
The first public reading took place in 2012. It was so great to hear the words spoke out loud by a cast of actors. Afterwards, we had a feedback session which was terrific. I went back and connected the dots a little more and added an intermission hook.
I was excited.
That was completed in the spring of 2013. A private reading took place in 2014 to hear it out loud again. I thought that went very well.
I was excited.
The idea of staging the play or turning it into a film crossed my mind.
And then [By The Mummers] had a renaissance!
What year is this? Oh…
Well, here we are in 2015! The next lived staged reading of ‘The Double Play’ takes place in September of 2015 in a location to be announced next week – but one that I find to be particularly awesome and one I think will be loads of fun for an audience
There will be more blogs coming up about ‘The Double Play’, but you can also check out McGrawShaw.com for a little more info!