Our Last Game
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Our Last Game: Theater review by David Cote
Solo performer Ed Schmidt isn’t prolific, but his small body of work has a consistent vision: failure, the lukewarm puddle in which all mediocrities drown, no matter how hard they row. In My Last Play, which Schmidt performed in his Carroll Gardens apartment in 2011, he talked about his sputtering career as a playwright, then proceeded to give away books from his large theater library. Before that, in The Last Supper, he recounted Jesus’ final meal from the perspective of the women who cooked it. The finality motif continues with Our Last Game, in which the author-performer portrays a high-school basketball coach across 33 years of hope and humiliation.
If the premise sounds epic or self-indulgent, don’t worry: The show runs about an hour with two brief intermissions; it’s essentially three monologues that wind backward. We start in 2003 with a pregame talk from Coach (Schmidt), who is 62, suffering from an unspecified condition and ready for retirement. Tearfully, but with a spark of fighting spirit, he outlines moves to his perennially losing players (us, gathered in a concrete grotto in the East Village’s Nord Anglia International School). We may not win the game, Coach says, but perhaps we won’t lose so much.
The next section takes place in 1984, at halftime. Coach screams obscenities at us, throws a folding chair and generally bullies us into rallying for the second half. If the perfect coach is part nurturing dad and part abusive tyrant, Schmidt plays both sides with equal passion. (Quick aside: Schmidt, whose close-cropped hair, jug ears and square jaw are all-American, is not a polished actor, but he has focus and presence, which count for a lot.) The final segment, in 1971, is shot through with irony, as the young and bubbly Coach takes charge of the team, little knowing the decades of disappointment ahead of him.
Those of us who don’t give a damn about b-ball court tactics may well ask, What is Schmidt up to? In the program, the writer notes that he’s head coach of the Boys’ Varsity Basketball team at Trinity School, so we must assume something deeply personal in the psychodrama of a grown man exhorting boys to greatness—perhaps seeing his own life as one long, fumbled shot. Many a play has mined drama in the father-son dynamic of coaches and athletes (That Championship Season, for one), but Schmidt’s character study, though amusing and vivid, is weirdly thin and truncated.
Since flopping is his grand theme, maybe the lameness is intentional. You could say that being a loser is part of Schmidt’s brand; on his website, he dryly notes that his plays “have been rejected by some of the most and least venerable theater companies in America.” For better or worse, Our Last Game will likely not break that streak.—David Cote
Nord Anglia International School (Off-Off Broadway). Written and performed by Ed Schimdt. Running time: 1hr. Two intermissions.