TESTMATCH: Drama by Kate Attwell. Directed by Pam MacKinnon. American Conservatory Theatre,
The Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco, CA. 415-749-2228 or www.act-sf.org.
October 24–December 8, 2019.
A Stunning TESTMATCH at ACT’s Strand Theater.
If you go, and you should, to see the world premiere of Kate Attwell’s Testmatch that is receiving a stunning but problematic staging at the Strand Theater bring along your thinking cap. The multiplicity of topics explored will send your mind reeling and like Cheryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine there is a gap of at least a century between the two acts. Whereas the first act is a dynamic realistic interplay of six women cricketers the second act jumps back at least 100 years becoming parody, gender bending with outlandish costumes and stylized acting to emphasize the economic raping of India when it was a colony of England and “ruled” by the British East India (EIC).
Part I: The present: A player’s lounge at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London. It is the woman’s World Cup cricket match between Britain and India and India is leading. There has been a rain delay and six characters take refuge in the locker room. They are the captains and two of their players from each of the teams listed only as England 1(Madeline Wise), 2 (Arwen Anderson), 3 (Millie Brooks) and India 1 (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), 2 (Lipica Shah) and 3 (Avanthika Srinivasan).
The conversation is wide ranging with the most significant being England 2’s comment that India would not have cricket if Britain had not brought it there. India 1 vehemently responds that is not the only thing they brought and Attwell waits until the second act to outline the horror of what the EIC brought to India. Before that happens the interchange between the characters is wide ranging. There is the dichotomy of pay differential between women and men teams, implied and almost spoken racism, the cheating that goes on in sports, the inequality of endorsement stipends and even whether Rugby players are better partners than cricketers for sex.
The physical and conversational interaction between each actor gives solid definition of the characters they represent and director MacKinnon keeps them in balance. You will not forget the sudden outburst that is never explained when England 1 goes on a rampage smashing her bat and leaving the locker room. That fury may invest the audience when they learn “what else Britain has brought to India.”
The locker room scene abruptly ends with flashing and colored lights (Marie Yokoyama) and the scene changes to “Outdoors at The Fort, an East Indian Company outpost in Calcutta, India.” The time is “Around 1749, perhaps 1800.” Arwen Anderson and Millie Brooks (formerly England 2 and 3) change costume on stage becoming “One” and “Two” Lord’s Cricket Club members and EIC officers. Those costumes (Beaver Bauer) are all white, well-padded in the front, with powdered wigs making them look like characters escaped from “Alice in Wonder Land” ready to perform as clowns.
The language is highly stylized as these two clowns are codifying the rules of cricket while loading their coffers with ill-gained funds before leaving for England. The Sepoy (Lipica Shah) is taking notes. A young Indian girl Daayna (Avanthika Srinivasan) who has superior cricket skills climbs over the wall to display her skills. She is the unacknowledged daughter of Two. The buffoons are shocked that a woman would seek to play the male sport of cricket.
The real coup de grace to the evening is the entrance of Messenger (Meera Rohit Kumbhan) from the country side who describes the famine caused by the EID’s usurping the rice fields to grow “poppies and indigo” creating a cash crop. Any humor that is earned by the bumbling One and Two rapidly dissipates. There is a dramatic ending initiated by Daayna that is perfectly directed suggesting One has gotten his comeuppance.
This world premiere gives the impression of a work in progress but has all the earmarks of a playwright who will become a power in the field of drama. Running time is about 90 minutes without intermission and earns a solid “should see.”
CAST: England 2, One, Arwen Anderson; England 3, Two, Millie Brooks; India 1, Messenger, Meera Rohit Kumbhani; India 2, Abhi, Lipica Shah; India 3, Daanya, Avanthika Srinivasan; England 1, Memsahib Madeline Wise.
CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Pam MacKinnon; Scenic Designer, Nina Ball; Costume Designer, Beaver Bauer; Lighting Designer, Marie Yokoyama; Sound Designer and Original Music, Elisheba Ittoop; Voice and Dialect Coach, Lisa Anne Porter; Movement Coach, Danyon Davis; Dramaturg, Joy Meads; Cultural Consultant, Radhika Rao; Casting Director, Janet Foster; Assistant Director, Gracie Brakeman; Stage Manager, Elisa Guthertz.