Lee Blessing, author of the 1987 Broadway two-hander “A Walk in the Woods,” takes another tandem turn reuniting an estranged father and son in “The Winning Streak,” now in its East Coast premiere at New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse.
The all-American sport of baseball serves as a binding metaphor for retired Major League umpire Omar (Dan Lauria), who is consumed by the progress of his favorite (unidentified) team and its unprecedented winning streak.
Omar is visited by his son, Ryland Davis (played by Kevin Spacey lookalike Brennan Brown), the long-ago result of a one-night stand with a teenage girl. Omar, who’s nearing death from lupus, is confronted by his son, who is desperate to forge a long-dormant family bond and bring some kind of resolution to his own unfulfilled life.
The one-acter starts on a high note with lots of crisply sharp, exasperating gags that ease the tension between father and son. Ry is a rather clumsy art restorer, recently dismissed by a major museum after accidentally destroying a valuable painting. He leads his father to believe he is married and a father, but in reality he’s an insecure single loser in search of his own identity. The character as written is rather elusive, despite the desperately apparent need to link with his past and a coldly indifferent parent.
Blessing has forged a conflict peppered with flinty dialogue. It’s a playful sparring match that never really peaks. The father’s big bear hug comes as an unsettling conclusion that is much too sudden and uncomfortably too tidy.
While the piece is written with economy and precision, it is deceptively cold when all is said and done. The playwright defines the glib surface of his characters, and his humor has plenty of bite, but an attempt to probe the depths of the human heart only scratches the surface.
In a nicely detailed, fluid perf, Lauria, best known as the dad in ABC series “The Wonder Years,” harnesses the role of a grizzled loner with gruff authority. Brown offers a politely supple and well-nuanced turn as the son.
Director Lucie Tiberghien’s staging is sensitive and unobtrusively well patterned. A functional, spare revolving platform and steps serve as an economical set design for locations in an undetermined Midwestern city, occasionally accented by a bank of stadium lights or a boardwalk sightseeing telescope. A keenly focused lighting design adds pointed clarity that illuminates the action and cradles the characters with clear, caring lines.