Lafayette plays host to those Chicago Bleacher Bums and Orinda provides the perfect setting for The Triumph of Love!

From how to love a loser, Chicago style, to how to love and not lose, Mediterranean style, this week’s theatrical reviews embrace comedy, poignancy, the positive and negative aspects of humanity in two superb productions locally. The Lafayette Town Hall Theatre Company is back in the full swing of delivering great theatre with an outstanding production of Joe Montegna’s comic and heartfelt play about one of America’s most beloved baseball teams, the Chicago Cubs, in Bleacher Bums. A little further north west on Highway 24 in Orinda, the California Shakespeare Theatre has laughter rolling up and down those Orinda foothills with their outrageously funny production of Pierre Carlet de Marvaux’s brilliant comedy, The Triumph of Love.

Even if you never liked baseball, it would be hard not to fall in love with those "Bleacher Bums "!

What is it about spending the afternoon soaking up the sun, imbibing some suds and perhaps a hot dog or two, while watching a bunch of guys bat a fist-sized little white ball around a big green pasture, that turned it into a national pastime? I have to admit that baseball was never one of my favorite sports. In fact I considered it a rather boring waste of time.. Having been born in Las Vegas and experiencing the trials and tatters that gambling brought to people’s lives, I never even got any enjoyment from playing cards. Gambling never really appealed to me in any form. A number of years ago, the first time I experienced a play entitled Bleacher Bums, about die-hard baseball fans cheering for and chiding their favorite baseball team, while wagering a number of bets on the side, it was just a ho-hum experience, not really bad, not really good. A few years later and second time I saw the same play by a different theatrical company, my experience was much the same. So when I got the notice from the Town Hall Theatre about this play opening their 2007 season, you can imagine my great excitement and anticipation. This experience turned out to be exactly the opposite for me. I finally got the message, and I loved the show!

Known primarily as a versatile character player of stage and screen, Joe Mantegna first garnered national prominence working as an actor in collaboration with writer-director David Mamet in the 1980s and early 90s. With his dark Mediterranean looks, however, Hollywood often chose to cast the actor in standard gangster roles that do not tap into his full capabilities.
The world does not evolve around Joe Mantegna the playwright. In fact, few people even know about his association with the Organic Theatre and his collaboration with that company’s members to write this play. The play follows the actions of a Chicago Cubs–St. Louis Cardinals game at Wrigley Field from the perspective of the folks in the cheap seats—the bleacher bums.

Shortly after the show begins, a beautiful blond, Melody (Ginny Wehrmeister), adorned with dark glasses, a colorful halter top, knee-length shorts, a tush cushion and various personal paraphernalia, enters the top row of seats in the bleacher section of a baseball park and sits down, and settling down to enjoy a day of relaxed fun in the sun. A couple of minutes later, other characters in the show begin filing in, looking for their apparently traditional seats.

Yes, these are the hometown warriors, the Wrigley Field bleacher bums that regularly fill the “Cheap Seats” and cheer on their home town team, the Chicago Cubs. Greg (Sean Robert Griffin) is blind, but he knows his way around the stadium, and with his transistor radio in hand and earplug in place, finds his accustomed seat to join in the camaraderie of his extended baseball family. Zig (Scott Fryer) is the pillar of this old boys group, a fan for what seems to be a lifetime, a part and parcel of this park’s history. Then there is Dekker (Andrew Shaw), a pseudo-professional gambler but a good guy, who like most of the others here, is part of the ongoing history of this team. He is probably the focal point of the play but he doesn’t overshadow the other characters, their unique heart-touching personalities that make this wonderful play a great play about the core values in both good and selfish people. Richie (Dennis Markham) is the “geek”, the guy who really doesn’t quite fit in, but who takes his place in your heart before the play is over. Marvin (Marcus Klinger) is the died-in-the-wool “I win, you loose” gambler, the guy that easily becomes the odd man out, the guy who roots for the St. Louis Cardinals, the guy who plays the odds, strictly from the head, certainly not from the heart. In fact, as the show moves on, you begin to wonder if Marvin has a heart or if he ever had a heart. Then there is Rose (Sally Hogarty), who is Zig’s wife and the bane of his baseball existence. Next comes the most up-beat “cheer-leader” (Henry Perkins) you will probably ever see, the guy in war-paint, died hair, and an attitude for his “team”, the guy who attempts to whip up the crowd and you ,the audience, into a team-winning frenzy. Following Henry around the stadium is his own personal “groupie”, The Kid (Maggie Manzana), who echo’s his every move. Each actor adds measurably to the heart of this story.

The story finally came to fruition for me in this production. Director Joel Roster has selected a superb cast and directed this show into a touching, fun-filled tour-of-the-heart, a show that will bring laughter and love and compassion for those wonderful “Bleacher Bums” of Wrigley Field. The acting is truly superb! Sally Hogarty brings a warmth and joy to the role of Zig’s wife that I’ve never seen before, and Ginny Wehrmeister, who plays the “blond bombshell in the Bleachers”, finally brings a real woman to the role, a woman you actually come to care about, not the “dumb blond” character that I have seen habituating this role in previous interpretations. Great job, Joel!

A delightful lady by the name of Betty, confessed to me at intermission, that while she had never been a fan of baseball, nor did she understand the jargon customary to the game of baseball, she loved the “show, the high energy, the terrific acting”, and that after a 20 year hiatus from the Town Hall Theatre, she would probably start coming back again to see their shows, after seeing this one.

This show plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays now through October 14th. This show will play in repertory with another production by Town Hall, an Irish play entitled “The Weir”, which will open in two weeks, on August 30th. Once The Weir opens, the “Bleacher Bums” performances will rotate with productions on the following dates, September 6th, 7th, 15th, 16th, 20th, 21st, 29th, 30th, October 4th, 5th, 13th and closing on the 14th. The big brown Town Hall Theatre is located at 3535 School Street at Moraga Road in Lafayette. Call (925) 283-1557 for ticket or reservation information of visit their web-site at for more information. Tickets range between $12 for Student “Rush” tickets, and $32 at the upper end of the Adult ticket prices. This is not recommended for children under age 12 due to strong language. Don’t miss this great show at one of the East Bay’s premier community theaters!

The California Shakespeare Theatre, performing in the Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda, has engaged the award winning veteran director Lillian Groag to adapt Pierre Carlet de Marvaux’s delightful farce about a woman’s will and absolute infatuation and unrelenting determination to get what she wants, in The Triumph of Love.

Princess Leonide (Stacy Ross), in disguise as a man, Phoncion, journeys from her home in Sparta to a neighboring province in search of a former heir to her throne, Agis (Jud Williford), who has been living in secret exile following his uncle’s murderous coup d'état and ascension to the Spartan throne, when Agis was a child. In what might have been a journey bent on the destruction of her potential adversary for her throne, the Princess falls in love with Agis at first sight. This occurs when she observes him living as a student with his mentor, the philosopher Hermocrates (Dan Hiatt) in the garden of his estate. The princess now becomes determined to restore Agis to the throne provided she can make him fall in love with her, so she that she can retain her regal position, as the wife of the ruler. Lonide’s lady-in-waiting, Corine (Catherine Castellanos), accompanies her lady to assist her in her mission, disguised likewise as a man, Hermidas. Hermocrates and his sister, Leontine (Domenique Lozano), have become quite jaded in their solitary existence on his estate, shutting off almost all contact with the world outside their estate walls. Alone and aloof, they have come to disdain love and all the dangers that it portends, likewise brainwashing Agis into a similar state of revulsion of all things romantic.

Princess Leonide has some nearly insurmountable challenges to overcome that lie between her love, her throne and access to the premises and gardens of the philosopher, Hermocrates. Not the least of which are the gardener, Dimas (Ron Campbell) and the entrepreneurial clown, Arlecchino (Danny Scheie), who pray upon her need to get access to the hearts and will of all of her adversaries.

The play is a very silly, colorful, outrageous farce, but so well directed and acted that you will probably come to like the conniving princess, in spite of her selfish shortcomings. All of the actors are perfect in their portrayals. This is a fun-filled production that I highly recommend.

This superb production plays Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 4 p.m., now through October 14th. Call the Box Office at (510) 548-9666 or visit their web-site at for more detailed information. The Cal Shakes Theatre is located in the Bruns Amphitheater at 100 Gateway Blvd., in Orinda. There is plenty of free parking at the entrance to the theater which is at the last exit east of the Caldecot Tunnel, at 100 Gateway Blvd, in Orinda. There is a hill to climb to the Bruns Amphitheater seating area, but if you prefer, the company has a free shuttle up the hill from the entrance, and from the Orinda BART station as well. Tickets start at $15 and generally range between $37 and $60 depending on accommodations and date. Remember to dress warmly as it can be very chilly, in-fact, down-right cold if the fog comes in over the Orinda hills into the theater area. Bring a picnic dinner or lunch or buy a dinner from the food booth adjacent to the theater seating area and dine before the performance in the wonderful picnic ground also adjacent to the theater.