If you’ve never heard of Tinker to Evers to Chance, you’re clearly not a Chicago Cubs fan. That was me, at least. Running in Artistry’s Black Box Theater through May 26, this regional premiere by Mat Smart, who developed it at the Playwright Center, takes its name from the deadly double play basemen that helped the Chicago Cubs win back-to-back World Series in 1907 and 1908. The play itself takes place in 2003 (bless your hearts, you Cubs fans) where Lauren has flown in from New York to see the deciding playoff game with her mom, Nessa, who loved the Cubs so much she insisted on getting an apartment across from Wrigley Field.
When Lauren gets there, Nessa is missing. Left behind to help Lauren figure out why she left are her caretaker RJ and a play script she was working on. This play isn’t a whodunnit, though. It’s one about the choices we make to stay or go, to fall in love or to stay in the safe waters of pleasantry.
Tinker to Evers to Chance is several conversations pieced together between two actors, JoeNathan Thomas and Meredith Casey. Their title characters are RJ (Thomas) and Lauren (Casey), but they also transition into Cubs player John Evers and others that shed light on how Nessa sees the world. (I don’t know if you’d call it a shame or not, but my favorite scene with Thomas and Casey is at the top of Act II when they’re not their primary characters.)
Thomas has a voice made for radio and body language that transforms his character. Casey charges full steam ahead in all of her lines, but she is delightful when she is able to go beyond Lauren’s fast-paced persona. I would also like to give a shout-out to the sound designer, Anita Kelling, who gave us street noise and a baseball game through a screen window.
Despite the conversational set up, Smart’s script often gives RJ and Lauren monologues where they don’t actually listen to each other. This makes sense since the two characters often butt heads, but it can make the play seem redundant. She’s either upset or a rabid Cubs fan; he’s a kind-hearted man who wants to maintain the even keel of his life. RJ’s character gets a little more fleshed out; Lauren’s remains more stagnant.
By the time the characters get to the “big question” of the play, there’s not enough script left to show the denouement of those decisions. This doesn’t sit well with me, but maybe I’m just into epilogues. Still, Tinker to Evers to Chance has a story that is so easy to engage with. While the road bumps aren’t smoothed over, they become part of the ride instead of derailing it.