Pottsville's gridiron heroes score again in world-premiere 'Maroons'

Adam Altman (left), Chuck Beishl, and John Jerbasi star in Ray Saraceni's story of the unlikely team that won the 1925 NFL crown.
Adam Altman (left), Chuck Beishl, and John Jerbasi star in Ray Saraceni's story of the unlikely team that won the 1925 NFL crown.
Posted: November 08, 2011

Like any good sports drama, Iron Age Theatre's world premiere production of Ray Saraceni's Maroons: The Anthracite Gridiron covers as much action off the field as in the game; maybe more. And like the most successful efforts in its genre, filmed, staged or literary, Saraceni connects the thrills and agonies of winning and losing, the struggle against all odds, to their parallels outside the stadium.

The odds are stacked mightily against Pottsville's hometown heroes, the Maroons, a bunch of "coal crackers," who got their name when sporting goods supplier Zacko (Dave Fiebert) sold team owner "Doc" Streigel (Luke Moyer) the only color jerseys he had in stock, along with a free pigskin ball. Against a backdrop of union strikes and the birth of professional football, this scrappy team was the only reason several of its members would spend a full working year above ground. Somehow, the Maroons won the 1925 NFL championship, and went on to grapple with Notre Dame's storied Knute Rockne-coached "Four Horsemen." Even today, signs around Pottsville celebrate the boys' win and cite the bitter controversy that followed.

Each member of Saraceni's player quintet brings a well-defined personality and backstory to his human-interest angle. Some characters - such as Chuck Beishl's taut, combustible Latone and Markus Zanders' Ernst, whose goofy grin and exploits with much-discussed ladyfriends Maggie and Muriel leaven the coal-country gravitas - carry the team with ease. Others, most notably Doug Greene's too-soft Berry, fumble. But, together, they're like facets of a diamond, a gem formed, of course, when coal finds itself under great pressure.

Directors/designers Randall Wise and John Doyle also struggle with balance. Their set, a black platform ringed with black rocks, appears steeped in soot and lit for squinting. And while Moyer's scrimmages with rival Frankford Yellowjackets team owner Shep (Bill Rahill, in fine form as a fancy-suited scoundrel) crackle, too often Saraceni's dialogue bogs them down with repetitive grand speeches. However, in their defense, it sure is nice to hear that speechifying given in overt Pennsylvania accents, punctuated at least once by a proud "youse."

Saraceni could snip a half-hour, including Zacko's hokey audience-address narration, or better integrate the intersection between the team and novelist-playwright John O'Hara (an amateurish Ed Hughes, gee-whiz where he ought to be gimlet-eyed), then a budding local journalist.

But if a sports play's success can be measured by the response it gets from those more likely to buy a seat in a theater than in a stadium, Maroons, even in overtime, is still a win.


Follow Wendy Rosenfield on Twitter at #philastage. Read her reviews at www.phillystage.com.Theater Review

Maroons

Presented by Iron Age Theatre at the Centre Theater, 208 DeKalb St., Norristown, through

Nov. 27. Tickets: $15 to $20. Information: 610-279-1013

or IronAge@

comcast.net.

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