‘Jumpers for Goalposts’
Through June 21
1501 14th St., N.W.
Viv would love to win just one match. She knows her aptly named soccer team Barely Athletic will never beat the Lesbian Rovers or the smug Man City for that matter. But she thinks they might stand a chance against Tranny United whose members play in stilettos. Still, it would be a win.
Penned by British gay playwright Tom Wells, “Jumpers for Goalposts” (now making its U.S. premiere at Studio Theatre) follows the short season of Barely Athletic, a ragtag five-a-side soccer team competing in an amateur LGBT league in Hull, a Northern England port city. For competitive lesbian Viv (Kimberly Gilbert), head coach and the only woman on the team, the stakes are high. Booted from the opposing lesbian team for being too bossy, she needs to save face.
The remaining players (four guys; three gay, one straight) are there for less ferocious reasons: recreation, perhaps sex and maybe a little romance. Beardy Geoff (Jonathan Judge-Russo), a witty, penniless street performer who dreams of becoming a gay singing sensation scores goals for the wrong team and isn’t averse to hitting on the opposition. Danny (Zdenko Martin), a fit and easy going physical education student likes the sport, but he also has is eye on teammate Luke (Liam Forde), a shy 19-year-old who until now has been unacquainted with a soccer ball and the world of dating. And there’s Joe (Michael Glenn), a boiler repairman who was married to Viv’s deceased big sister. At 39, Joe is the oldest and least in shape of the team, but he comes every Sunday afternoon at Viv’s insistence. She can’t bear the idea of him spending his weekends at home alone.
The story unfolds in a municipal locker room after the matches. It’s here where the team receives notes from Viv ranging from criticisms to pleas to do their best. It’s also where we learn about the players’ lives off the football pitch (that’s soccer field in American). Spikey-haired Viv runs a pub and lives with her longtime girlfriend. It seems her extreme concern for Joe allows her to bury her own sadness about her sister’s death. Beardy insists on wearing his lucky Peruvian knit hat when he’s playing soccer. But it turns out to be more than simply a talisman. He’s hiding something. And the gently budding romance between Luke and Danny is not without problems. It’s almost derailed by an HIV diagnosis.
Gilbert’s turn as Viv is nicely layered. Beneath the crusty exterior, she’s soft and caring. Her scenes opposite Glenn who wonderfully underplays Joe are among the play’s best. He poignantly conveys the essence of a sort of dulled mourning. He’s not happy but he’s OK.
Ably staged by Matt Torney, Studio’s take on Wells’ endearing comedy is quick-paced and satisfying. Scenes are punctuated with blasts of British pop. Set designer Debra Booth’s drearily real locker room looks so authentic you can almost smell it. Michael Giannitti’s lighting design is appropriately fluorescent. The casts’ accents are consistent — lots of “raight” instead of “right.” Not what you’d find in “Downton Abbey” above stairs.
Despite some predictable plot points, “Jumpers for Goalposts” isn’t your average gay or sports play. It’s truly inhabited by people living ordinary lives who just happen to be gay and ultimately the drama is more about sorting out skirmishes rather than battling for the trophy.