Baseball serves as a metaphor for the American mindset in Ken Weitzman’s “The Catch,” now receiving its world premiere at the Denver Center Theater Company. Based loosely on the controversial events surrounding the record-breaking 73rd home run hit by Barry Bonds at the end of the 2001 season, the story probes the litigious, scam-filled, and get-rich-quick schemes that poison our zeitgeist.
Gary Zipnik (Ian Merrill Peakes) is down on his luck. His Silicon Valley dot-com venture tanked, taking with it his house and his marriage. His dad, Sid (Mike Hartman), shows up and discovers his son in a small apartment in Berkeley, maintaining his sanity with affirmations and visualizations, researching via the Internet for the next big thing.
Peakes, who read the role at the DCTC New Play Summit a year ago, is a marvel of manic moments, obsessing over the details of Gary’s plans, including a statistical analysis of how often Love homers in the daytime at home games and where these blasts usually land, as well as how he will win back his wife, Beth (Makela Spielman), and take care of his dad.
Calling Sid a curmudgeon is charitable, but Hartman deftly mines the script’s comedic opportunities and comes off more eccentric than intractable. Spielman is picture perfect in Beth’s compact arc — caring, exasperated, and finally, incisive.
Despite the acrimony between father and son, they connect over baseball and the local star player, Darryl Love (Nicoye Banks), who is on pace to break the three-year-old record of the white “farm boy,” as Love calls him.
The ebullient Banks has a field day with Love, who is as much a showman, rap star, and evangelist as he is a bona fide Hall of Fame slugger. Banks’ smooth, efficient, left-handed swing is convincing, too. All of this helps sell the dark social commentary he pointedly lays on us during his narrative interludes.
Cultures clash when Gary bumps into Michael Nomura (Pun Bandhu) in the right-field bleachers, but underneath the tension and awkwardness, scribe cleverly reveals compelling parallels: Gary and Michael each seek in vain for their father’s approval and both their families had farms taken away from them (Gary’s Russian-Jewish grandfather during one of the Cossack pogroms, and Michael’s Japanese-American father, when he was ordered to an internment camp during WWII); however, it is their mutual interest in a certain baseball that eventually provides the common ground.
Bandhu’s incremental shifts in Michael, from inscrutable and reticent to confident and forthcoming, provide dynamic contrast to both Peakes’ extroverted, controlling Gary, and to Wai-Ching Ho’s broadly comedic Ruth, Michael’s mother.
Though we are loath to admit it, our storied national pastime’s cheating-laced history (spitballs, emery boards, corked bats, sign stealing and steroids) is not so different than the flip side of our nation’s gilded creed (racism, financial legerdemain, orchestrated casus belli and election theft) as Darryl Love points to in his scathing summary monologue.