Theatre Review: College Sports Under a Microscope at Delaware Theater Company

Sanctions by Philadelphia’s own Bruce Graham examines the hypocrisy of College Athletics, but this a play that is bigger than sports. Graham offers us insights into cheating, sexism, racism and sexual assault all under the examination of America’s addiction to big time college football.  The story is told through the eyes of a veteran female teacher who has championed the academic support for the athletes at the unnamed college.  Director Bud Martin, who has directed several of Graham’s plays, gets so much from the actors in this production.  It is an extremely serious and timely subject but like in all of Bruce Graham’s plays there are many hilarious lines fraught with irony.

The four actors in this show are remarkable.  As the head of academic support Claire Torrance, Catherine K. Slusar, one of Philadelphia’s finest actresses, brings the nuances of her character to full fruition.  She captures Claire’s personal pain, confusion, and defensive bravado.  Through the play she learns like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “There is no other hand.” As Claire’s friend Ronald Hitchens, Edward O’Blenis does an incredible job as the Director of Football Operations, he represents the team’s point of view.  Ronald tries to help Claire deal with her personal baggage as well as trying to represent the needs of the coaches and players.  It is through their discussions that audience learns the most about the specious logic that allows college football to permeate so many areas around the country.

As Tonya Mann, the academic dean in charge of Claire’s program, Kimberly S. Fairbanks represents academia’s political agenda with programs such as Claire’s.  Kimberly is spot on showing the tensions that exist in academia, the constant contradictions that make her job ever so much harder.  She being African American provides another layer of conflict for the play to explore.  The final member of this excellent quartet is Abby Barton, a naïve, freshman tutor.  Susanne Collins captures both the hopefulness and fear in her character.  She is looking for a vocation and seeks Claire as a mentor.

Technically, the greatest compliment I can pay this production is that is up to the very high standards of the Delaware Theater Company.  Dirk Durossette’s set is both striking and amazingly functional.  It allows Director Martin’s vision to unfold itself quickly and efficiently.  Tom Weaver’s lighting design and Lucas Fendlay’s sound design blend seamlessly in this wonderful production.  Joey Moro’s projection design also helps the audience keep track of the events.

This is an important play.  The seasoned hands of Bud Martin allows the audience to experience the true depth and timeliness of the playwright’s vision.  This play runs until September 30th.  If you have never been to Delaware Theater Company, it is well worth the trip.  For tickets call 302-594-1100 or go online at DelawareTheatre.org.

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