BWW Review: TESTMATCH at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater lobs questions of race, gender, sexuality, and class across the centuries, but ultimately misses the wicket.
It may be an unfamiliar sport to most American audiences, but in Kate Attwell's ambitious new play Testmatch, cricket becomes a prism through which she explores the lasting legacy of British colonialism in the Commonwealth countries that regularly compete against their former rulers. Lobbing questions of race, gender, sexuality, and class across the centuries, it ultimately misses the wicket.
In modern England, the heavily-favored visiting cricketers from India are beating the home team when the match is delayed by rain. Overly eager to play and finding in each other willing antagonists, tensions between the rivals slowly simmer. No sooner do they come to a head than we are transported back to Victorian times, as British colonizers in India attempt to solidify the rules of cricket for their personal glory while ignoring the famine their reckless exploitation has caused outside their estate's walls.
There's much to admire in Attwell's innovation and bracing theatricality, as she uses cricket's problematic origins and recent cheating scandals to explore how they are emblematic of the myriad problems left in the British Empire's wake. There are echoes of Churchill's Top Girls (so expertly revived at A.C.T. earlier this season) in its scale and the richness of its conflicting female voices. As an exploration of colonialism through a unique cultural tradition, it brings to mind too Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good, yet it leaves you wishing for the clarity and vision those great works possess. There is a lack of tonal control as we flit from melodramatic realism to painfully awkward pantomime to the unearned arrival of a messenger straight out of a Greek tragedy.
Pam McKinnon's direction is characteristically insightful, as she guides an able cast through the various styles within the play. Meera Rohit Kumbhani and Madeline Wise are standouts as the competing team captains in the first act, contrasting with their helpless and haunted bystanders in the second. Beaver Bauer's costumes help us make the transition between the two worlds, though Nina Ball's set lacks the imagination and playfulness of her beautiful work on Top Girls.
This is an intriguing, if uneven, work that shows Attwell's potential and gives space to an often unexplored topic.
Testmatch continues through December 8th, 2019 at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., San Francisco, CA. Tickets are available now at the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or online at actsf.org.
Photos by Kevin Berne.