I didn’t know what to expect when I met Bo Eason. I’d heard his one-man play, Runt of the Litter, a fictionalized version of his life as the the driven, younger brother of star NFL quarterback Tony Eason (whom I remember rooting for in the 80’s), was intense and graphic, so I imagined he’d need an equally intense pre-show routine/warmup.
And he did. Just like most actors, he had his vocal and physical exercises, but unlike many actors, he appeared to have absolutely no problem with being interrupted, coming over to shake my hand and cheerfully asking if I’d like to grab a helmet or pads, run on stage, and “hit someone.” 🙂 I declined, but with more reluctance than you’d expect from someone who works in the arts.
Runt of the Litter is intense and graphic. But it’s also incredibly well-written, constructed and performed. Usually, the kind of glittery-eyed focus that Bo Eason gave us turns me off in its insincerity. Not so here. Because you know this guy played, because you can see the scars on his body and the muscles that kept him on his feet when he was leaving it all on the field, and because he’s such a good, physically confident actor, it feels real. Is it horrifying at times? Yes. But only because it shows you just how much we, the population who watches sports and feeds the engine of celebrity, demand that level of intensity (insanity?) from our modern-day gladiators.
Which brings me back to the paradox that will keep me thinking long after Bo and his show have moved on. As the show progresses and Jack/Bo slowly puts on his armor and transforms himself into a Russell-Crowe style warrior, his endearing eagerness and passion are eclipsed by the dark single-minded violence that football allows (requires?) him to summon. Oh sure, I was properly shocked by the blood and needles and male locker-room talk, but what made the transformation especially hard to watch is that we, the audience, like Jack/Bo. He seems like a good guy. He charmed us in the beginning with his humor and heart-tugging story of brotherly affection and competition. He shook my hand and chatted with me backstage. And then he shot himself full of drugs, bled all over the stage, and grinned manically as he recalled the sound of his brother’s ribs shattering against his helmet.
How do I reconcile those two opposite extremes? Maybe by remembering that this is a fictionalized version of his life, that he didn’t really hit his brother and send him to the hospital? Maybe by knowing that after pursuing football success with an arrow’s straight and perhaps deadly intensity, Bo Eason is now pursuing (and achieving) artistic success with equal fervor? Maybe.
Actually, I believe it’s by remembering the final moment of the play, when Jack/Bo is left with nothing left to say, unable to stand, unable to look us in the eye. When he’s nothing more than an exhausted warrior who doesn’t know what to do with what just happened. When he’s not a football player anymore. When he’s just a person.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’m one lucky gal to get to see shows like this and call it my job. I enjoyed the moral quandary and the backstage glimpse at the football world, but in the end, it’s just fun to see good, dramatic, thought-provoking theater. Thanks, Bo Eason. I can’t wait to see the movie.
And PS…go Patriots.