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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

The Bowling Play

Review by Anthony Chase

four men in a bowling alley
Adam Yellen, Nick Lama, Connor Graham, and Jacob Albarella in "The Bowling Play" at Shea's Smith Theatre

There was a moment, about fifteen minutes into The Bowling Play, by Kelly Copps, when I thought, “Good God, this is perfection!” 


The play has the wit of Neil Simon, complete with distinct characters, reminiscent of the card players in The Odd Couple, each with a layer of depth and humanity. The dialogue is full of those rapid-fire exchanges that are both hilarious and poignant, and that highlight the quirks of human nature and the complexity of human relationships. All of this has been deftly and sensitively directed by Amy Jakiel, who has guided a first-rate roster of Buffalo funny men to confident performances that are so well-tuned that they often seem authentically spontaneous. 


The structure of the play is simple. Pete, played by Connor Graham, has ditched his regular bowling buddies to go on a blind date with a woman with whom he connected on the internet.  When he arrives at the bowling lanes, he assumes that the only woman in the place is his date.  Things seems to be progressing nicely, if awkwardly, when his bowling buddies show up unexpectedly. 


Apparently, when Pete canceled, the guys decided to bowl anyway, and to show up early. Let the complications, confusions, and misunderstandings begin!


Connor Graham is adorable as good-hearted Pete, that sweet guy who never seems to get a lucky break. He’s been divorced, and though his youth is quickly receding, he finds himself living with his mother again.  While his bowling buddies are swell, he is lonely for female companionship.  Graham elevates clueless fumbling to an art as he haplessly navigates the unfamiliar territory of online dating.


Pete’s friends are a hodge-podge of nerdy social misfits, sort of the bowling equivalent of the roommates in Big Bang Theory.  Buster, played with guileless sincerity by Jacob Albarella, is a kind-hearted guy who never looks beyond the surface of anything.  CJ, played by Nick Lama, is a more cynical man who is, nonetheless, unabashedly hooked on “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” defiantly insisting that it really is, “an excellent show!” Finally, Ronnie, played by Adam Yellen, is an angry soul, jealous and suspicious, who obsessively pumps quarters into the arcade claw machine, even though he never seems to win, and who seems sure that the world is out to get him. His seething exits are divine.


This motley crew is notable for having many qualities that would, in this sort of Plautine comedy, be associated with female friends. They are notably sensitive and driven by their emotions.  They are simultaneously loyal to and jealous of each other; both supportive of and competitive with each other. 


Albarella, Lama, and Yellen make a remarkable comic ensemble. Their interactions are so finely tuned that sentences and even guttural utterances overlap with stop-watch precision, a calibration further refined by Jakiel’s astute direction. 


Alexandria Watts gives a winning performance as the cheerful and charismatic "girl," who unwittingly ends up on a date with Pete. She is the grounded foil to the social ineptitude of the gentleman bowlers.  Sofia Matlasz is hilarious as a character who is amusingly extraneous before she even enters. She evokes an iconic comedy type in her creation of the low-brow, overconfident, and oversexed date. These contrasting women, one wholesome, the other naughty, represent the full spectrum of heterosexual male desire – at least in the world of farce. 


Rick Lattimer repeatedly transforms himself as he enters and exits as a litany of oddball characters: Willie, Roger, and Artie.  These are highly entertaining, and Lattimer is highly adept at making his comical character switches. Still, the Willie/Roger/Artie characters are not essential to the story in the way that, for example, the similarly doubled intruding party guests in A.R. Gurney’s Later Life, or intervening characters in his play, Sylvia, are. This is especially true when played against the boy-bonding of Pete, Buster, CJ, and Ronnie, which is so marvelous on its own.  


Produced by Second Generation Theatre at Shea’s Smith Theatre, the company has lavished attention on the look of the show, an impressively realistic bowling center set by Spencer Dick, costumes by Lindsay Salamone, and props by the ubiquitous Diane Almeter Jones. 

This is the first full production of a play that has been in development for many years – fully ten years, according to the program notes.  Its first workshop reading was five years ago. The work is excellent. The dialogue is brilliant, and the characters are well drawn and relatable. 


The plot, at present, is rather linear, taking us to places we expect to go, albeit very pleasingly. The entrance of Pete’s actual date is a complication, but being entirely predictable, it can’t really be called a plot twist. This show could use another jolting surprise of the sort that would more fully reveal depth of character, and some decisions could be made about the Gurney-esque Willie/Roger/Artie track.


That being said, spending an evening with these characters and joining Pete on his dating odyssey was wonderfully entertaining. The audience departed into the night, happy with the show and optimistic about the state of the world. This is the sort of play, that could, with minimal tweaking, play at theaters across the country.  Catch The Bowling Play before it closes on March 10th. I promise that you will laugh. This is an impressive and notable first-outing for playwright Kelly Copps.




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