Wacha Excellent in 1-0 Loss to Philly

Although Cardinal starter Michael Wacha was very, very good last night, the 1-0 loss was the fourth loss in the first five games of the home stand, and the fifth in the last six games.

The team batting totals over the last six games are a little deceptive.  St Louis has scored just 16 runs (2.67 per game) and is batting just .221.  The reality of the situation is significantly different.  It’s considerably worse.  Poor as these numbers are, they are substantially inflated by the 10-run outburst Monday night.  Remove that game from the totals, and St Louis is hitting just .186 (30-for-161) in the “other” five games, with only 2 home runs (they hit five on Monday), 6 runs scored and 54 strikeouts.  They have now been shut out twice in those other games.

Zero-for-three last night, St. Louis is just 5 for its last 26 (.139) with runners in scoring position.  They were also 0-for-7 with runners on base, and are just 12 for their last 74 (.162) with any runners on base.

In a bit of a departure, most of the recent offensive struggles have come against right-handed pitchers (Rubby De La Rosa, Joe Ross, Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola).  Over the last six games, they are hitting .308 (8-for-26) with a .615 slugging percentage against the lefty relievers they’ve faced.  Over that same span, they are hitting .208 (36-for-173) against right handed pitching.

Matt Carpenter led off the game with a double.  This would be the only time in the game that the Cardinals would put a lead-off man on.  That being said, production leading off an inning is on the rise this year.  In 2015, Cardinal leadoff hitters carried an uninspiring .318 on base percentage, scoring 44% of the times that they reached.  So far this year, that on base figure is .377, with the runner scoring 50% of the time.

Howard’s home run last night off Michael Wacha was the ninth served up by Cardinal pitching over the last six games.  During this span, the St Louis starters have held opposing hitters to a .209 batting average (31-for-148), but 14 of those hits have been for extra bases, including 8 of the home runs allowed by the staff.  The opposing slugging percentage against the last six Cardinal starters is .412, and their ERA – despite the low batting average – is 4.39.

This has, in fact, been the recurring image from the recent losses to Arizona, Washington and Philadelphia.  A very credible performance by a Cardinal starter that is decided by a game-changing homer.

Matt Holiday

Matt Holliday’s last walk came in the sixth inning of the April 23rd game in San Diego, 32 plate appearances ago.

Matt Adams

Matt Adams saw 18 pitches during his 4 plate appearances.  But grinding out at bats is still not Matt’s strong suit, as he went 0-for-4 in those appearances.  While Adams is 4 for his last 5 when he hits the first pitch, he is now just 2 for his last 14 (.143) if the at bat extends to a second pitch.

Aledmys Diaz

One of the significant features of this recent downturn is the first protracted slump by Aledmys Diaz.  Off to a record-setting hot start, Diaz was 0-for-3 yesterday with 2 strikeouts.  He now has just 2 hits in his last 18 at bats (.111).  One of the defining traits of major league hitters is the ability to work their way out of slumps.  The next several games will be very revealing about Aledmys.

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha has now been twice victimized by lack of any run support during the downturn, which started when he was shut out by De La Rosa in Arizona, 3-0.  Over his last two starts, Wacha has given the Cardinals 15 innings allowing just 4 runs on 10 hits (a 2.40 ERA), while striking out 17.  But, eight of the 10 hits allowed have been for extra bases, including three home runs, which have accounted for all the runs against him.

The most significant damage done against Wacha have come of the bats of the left-handers he’s faced in those starts.  Last night, lefties were only 3-for-12 (.250) against him, but that included Ceasar Hernandez’ double as well as the Howard home run.  Over his last two stars, left-handed hitters haven’t hit much against him (.238 on 5-of-21 hitting), but four of the five hits have been for extra-bases, including the game winning home runs by Howard and Chris Hermann.

Right-handers, by contrast, were 2-for-15 last night against Wacha (.133) and just 5-for-31 (.161) over his last 15 innings.

Seven of the eight extra-base hits he’s surrendered have come with the bases empty.  Over his last two starts, once a runner reaches base, the next batters are just 1-for-11 (.091) against Wacha, including 0-for-6 last night.  That lone hit, of course, was the Hermann home run.

Batters who hit Wacha’s first or second pitch went 4 for 12 (.333) with two doubles and the home run.  Batters that didn’t get him early, pretty much didn’t get him.  Everyone else went 1 for 15 (.067).  In Wacha’s starts against Arizona and Philadelphia, batters who reached him early were 5 for 14 (.357) with a .786 slugging percentage.  Thereafter, Michael allowed just 5 hits to the other 38 batters (.132).

Wainwright’s Homer Ignites Late Inning Explosion in 10-3 Win

When Aledmys Diaz popped out and Kolten Wong struck out after the Cards had put the first two batters on in the fourth, the air went visibly out of the home crowd.  With St Louis already trailing 3-0, all Philadelphia’s Jeremy Hellickson had to do now was to retire the pitcher and another promising scoring chance would go by the boards.

Five pitches later, the game was tied as that pitcher – Adam Wainwright – drove a massive home run into Big Mac Land.  The rest of the offense then awoke and provided another late inning run fest, sending St Louis on to a 10-3 win.

While admitting that the offense has been less than consistent, this late inning frenzy is quickly becoming a kind of trademark of this year’s team.  While Wainwright’s home run tied the game in the fourth inning, the Cardinals still ended the fifth with just 4 hits (in 19 at bats) and 5 strikeouts.  Between the sixth and eighth innings (St Louis did not bat in the ninth), the club hit .526 (10-for-19), hit 4 home runs and a double, scored 7 runs and slugged 1.211.

For the season, now, St Louis is hitting .255 (128-for-502) with 14 home runs across the first five innings of their games.  From the sixth inning through the ninth, this team carries a .302 batting average (123-for-407), has hit 26 home runs and is slugging – as a team – .575. All of last year, St Louis managed only 60 home runs after the fifth inning.  Nearly half of the runs the team has scored this year (76 of the 153) have come after the fifth inning.  Last year, the Cards scored only 42.5% of their runs (275 of 647) after the fifth.

Yes, a fair amount of the carnage has come against bottom of the bullpen relievers in blow-out games.  Last night, Philly lefty Brett Oberholtzer sort of took one for the team.  But most of these games have been pretty tight into the sixth or seventh inning before the Cards broke the games open.

Among the late inning heroes this year is Yadier Molina.  With his seventh inning single, Yadi is now hitting .484 (15-for-31) after the sixth inning.  Last year, Yadi was a .248 hitter (38-for-153) from the seventh inning on.

With two extra-base hits last night, and extra-base hits in three consecutive plate appearances, Adam Wainwright now carries an .818 slugging percentage for the season.

With five more home runs last night, St Louis is at 40 for the season through their first 26 games and 915 at bats.  Jhonny Peralta hit the Cardinals 40th home run of the year last year, a 2-run drive against the Dodgers’ Brett Anderson.  The homer gave St Louis an early 2-0 lead in a game they eventually won 3-1.  On May 31st.  In the Cardinals’ 50th game of the year.  Peralta’s at bat was the 1,704th of the year.

Of the 26 games played so far, St Louis has now hit multiple home runs in 11 of them.  They managed only 36 multiple home run games all last year, with number eleven coming when Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos both homered during a 4-3 loss in Colorado on June 9th, in St Louis’ 59th game.

Cards Loss is Ninth in Last Fifteen Games

As the season spins forward, it’s starting to look like the fifth inning of the April 16 game against Cincinnati might turn out to be the first major turning point of the season.  At that point, the Cards had won six of seven games, scoring in double figures in four of them, including hitting six home runs against Cincinnati the game before.  They had now pulled to within 2 games of the Cubs. When a 4-run second inning gave them a 4-0 lead over the Reds in this game, every aspect of the team seemed ready to come together.

For three innings, Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright seemed like he had regained his balance.  He had retired the first 8 batters he’d faced, and after yielding a couple 2-out singles, he closed the door getting Eugenio Sanchez to pop out ending the third.

But the Reds would get up off the deck, scoring 2 in the fourth to get back into it, and tying the contest with a momentum-switching two-run, fifth-inning rally that consisted of doubles by pitcher Brandon Finnegan, Zach Cozart and Brandon Phillips.

St Louis would keep scoring, but the Reds offense punched a hole in the game with a 4-run sixth and held on to win 9-8.

Since that game, the Cards have lost 9 of their last 15, falling a game under .500 at 12-13, and dropping to six games behind the Cubs.

As disappointing as any aspect of this slump is most of this has happened at home, where they have now lost 6 of their last 8.  They have only had two quality starts in their last eight home games.

Although the numbers suggest the pitching has been more to blame, the truth is that letdowns have occurred in both units.  While the offense has hit 18 home runs over the last 15 games and scored a very respectable 4.67 runs per game, this offense has already gone through several feast or famine cycles and has been disappointingly absent during the current four game losing streak – during which they have barely avoided being shut out three times.  They were 0-for-8 last night with runners on base.

Felipe Rivero came out of the bullpen to pitch the eighth for Washington.  The lefty’s perfect inning drops the Cards to just .227 (22-for-97) against left-handed pitching over these 15 games.  It seems like struggles against left-handed is always a part of the mix anytime the Cardinals struggle.

The last 8 home games have been characterized by a general offensive brown-out.  St Louis is hitting just .232 and scoring three runs a game lately at home.

For their part, the pitching staff has contributed just 6 quality starts and a 4.30 ERA since that turning point loss.  With the three home runs allowed last night, the Cardinal pitchers have now surrendered 18 home runs over their last 132 innings.

Matt Carpenter

All four of Matt Carpenter’s plate appearances last night came with the bases empty.  Over his last 65 plate appearances, Carpenter – with his two hits last night – is now hitting .290 (9-for-31) with the bases empty, with 8 walks and a .436 on base percentage.  With any runners on base, Matt is just 4 for 23 (.174) with a .231 on base percentage.

Carpenter has also lately been reviving his reputation as the team’s best two strike hitter.  He singled once in three at bats last night with two strikes and is 8 for his last 27 (.296) with two strikes.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty has shared much of the frustration the Cards have had recently in their home park.  His 0-for-4 last night makes him 5 for his last 26 (.192) over the last 8 home games.

Randal Grichuk

Since that Cincinnati game, every bat in the line-up has shown at least some spark, except for Randal Grichuk.  His has been the most trying first month.  Going 0-for-4 again last night, Randal has 7 hits in his last 49 at bats (.143), while his season average has declined to .179.

Grichuk’s ground out that ended the game was St Louis’ lone at bat with a runner in scoring position last night.  Randal is now 3 for his last 15 (.200) with runners in scoring position.

And just one for his last 23 at home (.043).

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz is on his first little skid of the season, and most of it has happened at home.  Over the last eight home games, Aledmys is hitting .238 (5-for-21) with no runs batted in.

Carlos Martinez

Martinez entered the game holding the last 22 batters to face him with a runner on base to 0-for-21, with one walk.  That streak reached 0-for-22 when den Dekker grounded out to end the third.  It would be den Dekker who finally broke the streak with his RBI single in the sixth.

When Max Scherzer bounced am 0-2 pitch up the middle for a third-inning single, it broke Martinez’ other streak.  Since the fifth-inning of his second start of the season, batters with two strikes on them had gone 0-for-30 against Carlos.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons is, of course, out of options.  After bouncing back and forth between AAA and the big club, he has shown flashes of being a reliable major league pitcher.  He has also struggled keeping the ball in the park.  Heisey’s home run in the ninth was the third he’s allowed to the last eleven batters he’s faced.

Lyons is also fading against right-handed batters.  The home run was one of two hits by right-handed batters in five at bats against Tyler.  After games of April 15, right handers were hitting .100 (1-for-10) against Tyler.  Since then, they are hitting .471 (8-for-17) with 2 home runs and a .941 slugging percentage.

Inherit the Wind Entry 4: A Riot Is An Ugly Thing

The Sinners Have No Chance at Reverand Browns Revival Meeting
The Sinners Have No Chance at Reverend Browns Revival Meeting.  (All of the grey and white boxes in the foreground will soon be painted over in black.

Saturday, April 30 2016

The story is rapidly starting to come together.  Today, we focused on the revival meeting.  Once it fleshes out and the energy starts to rise, it becomes apparent how pivotal this scene (and all the crowd scenes, but this one in particular) is to the show.  In the broadest sense, the play is less about the lawyers and the particular case and more precisely about the town.  Truly, they are the protagonists in the sense that they are the ones who change.

 

In less than an hour this morning, this scene went from a fairly flat recitation of lines into an exciting little scene.  Even in the early rehearsals, Mark is working on the dynamics of the show.  I know that this sounds like it should be obvious, but I promise you I have been to many productions in the area (even professional productions) that have no dynamic levels at all.  The scenes play out in a kind of artistic monotone, ending at the same level they begin.

So, here is this compelling little revival meeting that closes Act I.  Reverend Brown (played by Steve Garrett) has gathered the town to remind them of the importance of the conflict that is about to begin.  He walks them through the days of creation, with the undercurrent of energy rising.  Almost imperceptibly the otherwise normal, civilized town – responding to a threat that they don’t fully understand – grows into what Mark and Darrious call the Frankenstein mob.  At it’s peak, the over-stimulated crowd is at the point of taking the law into its own hands.  Brady intervenes, the momentum breaks, and the scene ends a page or so later with a very quiet exchange between Brady and Drummond.

What we worked on here were mostly small things, but they added a lot of life to the scene and gave it a dramatic shape.  For being still very early in the process, things are progressing nicely.

Adams’ Home Run Too Little Too Late

A home run by Matt Adams with Matt Holliday aboard in the eighth inning gave the Cardinals hope.  And when Kolten Wong walked leading off the ninth, there was even more hope.  But a double play grounder off the bat of Brandon Moss dampened the spirit, and ST Louis went down to a 5-4 loss.  They have now lost four of the five one-run games they gave played.

Even with the loss, though, Adams finished the game with two hits, pushing his early season average to .238.  Signs of improvement for him.  Not so much for the struggling Randal Grichuck, 0-for-4.

Adams’ eighth-inning home run that made things interesting came on the fifth pitch of that at bat (a 3-1 pitch).  Three of his four plate appearances extended past three pitches, and this was his only hit.  His first-inning RBI came off the first pitch of that at bat.

Like most hitters, Adams prospers when he hits the ball early in the at bat.  His first-pitch single leaves him at .462 (6-for-13) in at bats of three pitches or less.  Unfortunately for Matt, 68.9% of his plate appearances (31 of the 45) last more than three pitches – the highest such ratio on the team.  Matt Carpenter is second, seeing 4 or more pitches 61.9% of the time.  Once the at bat gets to four pitches, Adams’ production falls to a .138 average (4-of-29).

With a runner at second and two out in the third, Randal Grichuck grounded out on the first pitch thrown to him.  It was the only time Randal hit the first pitch thrown to him, and one of the rare times he hasn’t hit safely on the first pitch.  He is hitting .462 (6-for-13) with a home run and 5 RBIs when hitting the first pitch.  But when he doesn’t hit that first pitch, his average falls to .133 (8-for-60).

Inherit the Wind Entry 3: Baby Steps

Brady at the End of His Rope
Brady at the End of His Rope – Notice the beautiful floor!!

Thursday night, April 29 2016

We are on stage, on the beautifully painted floor, and re-visiting several of the crowd scenes.  We’ll have to talk more in depth about the importance of the townspeople in the show, but that will have to wait.  Today, we are reviewing.

The rehearsal process usually breaks out into 3 broad phases.  There is the blocking phase (the initial pass through the material that establishes the general movement of the players on the stage).  We are pretty much past that already, although there may still be a few more scenes that haven’t been blocked.

At the end will come the polishing phase.  At that point the show will be pretty settled and the focus will be on fine tuning all the elements as we make final preparations for performance.  We’re not really close to that yet.

Tonight, we are in the middle phase – the exploration.  At this point, everything about the show is in some state of flux.  Some of the actors have already made great strides in memorizing lines (one of the major objectives in this stage), but all of the characters and their relationships are very much under development.  Even though we have been blocked, there is still much to discover about how everything will play on the stage.

Significantly, exploration is the portion where pieces of business get added and/or taken out.  This is where ideas are tried out.  It is that fascinating process of converting theory into reality.

At some point in the near future, I’ll want to sit down with Director Mark Neels and talk about this, but I get the feeling this is probably his favorite part of the process.  There are times when he seems to be everywhere at once.  I actually tried to get a few pictures of him, but he moves so fast that I couldn’t get focused and snapped in time.  This was the best I could get:

Director Mark Neels is not really surrendering just yet
Director Mark Neels is not really surrendering just yet

One of the early off-book actors is Mary Robert, cast in the show as EK Hornbeck.  Here’s Mary:

Mary Robert as EK Hornbeck Converses with an Invisible Monkey - That's Right! an invisible Monkey
Mary Robert as EK Hornbeck Converses with an Invisible Monkey – That’s Right! an invisible Monkey!

Mary and I go way back.  This is another interview we’ll have to have pretty soon.

One of the most important goals of the exploration stage is for everyone to get comfortable in the environment of the play.  It’s still very early, but I think a lot of that is already starting to happen (in spite of the fact that it was freezing in the theatre last night!)

It’s baby steps right now, but we’re getting there.

Matthew Harrison Brady Savors his Victory over Henry Drumstick (er, Drummond)
Matthew Harrison Brady Savors his Victory over Henry Drumstick (er, Drummond)

De La Rosa Silences Cardinal Bats, Wins 3-0

So, all those excellent situational numbers I trotted out yesterday?  Rubby De La Rosa had an answer for all of them.  The road trip ends 4-3, and home we come to face Washington (who has been shutout in their last two games).  De La Rosa isn’t usually included among the “name” pitchers in the league, but he has been very good his last two times out.

Matt Adam’s 0-for-3, 1 walk night featured him hitting with two-strikes in two of those plate appearances.  Of his 41 plate appearances, Matt has hit with two strikes on him 27 times.  His 65.9% is far and away the highest on the team.  Brandon Moss has the team’s second highest rate, hitting with two-strikes 52.9% of the time (36 of 68).  The issue doesn’t seem to be a problem with passivity.  Of the 27 times this year that Adams has been in two-strike counts, he has swung at at least one of the first two strikes in 26 of them.  In 22 of the plate appearances, he has swung at the second strike, either fouling it off or missing it entirely.  His second inning, 8-pitch at bat last night against De la Rosa is more or less typical.  He fouled off four of the pitches before drawing the walk, including a fastball up and over the plate and a hanging slider.  Last year, he saw two-strike counts in only 46.8% of the time (87 of 186).

Twenty-two games into the season, Matt has only 41 plate appearances and 7 starts (including last night against the right-handed De La Rosa).  The problem could simply be something as simple as timing, aggravated by lack of consistent playing time.  But there is no simple answer for it.  You have to hit to play, so Matt is going to have to work his way through and take advantage of the opportunities that he gets.  Matt is 5-for-12 when he puts the ball in play before he gets two-strikes on him.  He is 3-for-26 (.115) once he sees that second strike.

Twenty-eight times, so far, in Aledmys Diaz’ rookie season he has hit with two strikes on him (including one last night against De La Rosa).  He has struck out in only 3 of those plate appearances (10.7%).  This makes him far and away the hardest on the team to get that third strike by.  The next closest is Yadier Molina who strikes out 25.6% of the time he gets two strikes on him (11 of 43).  In spite of his 0-for-1 last night, Diaz is still hitting .423 (11-for-26) with two strikes on him.

In all, 19 of the 33 Cardinals who came to the plate ended up hitting with two strikes.  Two of them worked walks.  The other 17 managed 2 hits and 11 strikeouts.

Even in defeat, Michael Wacha was very sharp.  Of the 27 batters he faced, he got two strikes on 18 of them (66.7%).  One walked, but only one of the other 17 hit the ball safely – Chris Hermann, whose game-winning home run came on a 1-2 pitch.

Offense Pushes Arizona Around Again, 11-4

During the three games against the Cubs that closed out the last home stand and the first game in San Diego, the roller-coaster offense managed a total of 7 runs.  They have scored at least 7 runs in each of the five games since.  The season is 21 games old, and the Cardinals are still averaging 6.52 runs per game and slugging .504 as a team.

In winning four of these last five games, the rebounding Cardinal offense has hit .344 (66 hits in their last 192 at bats).  Twenty-four of the hits have been for extra bases, including 10 home runs.  In averaging 9 runs a game during this recent spree, the team has managed a .604 slugging percentage.

Along the way, they have beaten right-handed pitchers like so many drums.  After Corbin left last night, the Redbirds feasted on Arizona’s right handed bullpen to the tune of 6-for-14 (.429).  Over the last five games and 141 at bats, St Louis bats have slashed .376/.433/.695 against right-handers.

While going 7 for 18 (.389) with runners in scoring position last night, the Cardinals’ average in that situation actually went down.  Over the last five games, St Louis is hitting an even .400 (22-for-55) with a .673 slugging percentage with RISP.

The recent hitting spree has even extended to two-strike counts.  St Louis went 6-for-17 (.438) with four walks last night with two strikes on them.  The last 95 Cardinal batters who have hit with two strikes on them are batting .376 (32-for-85) with 9 walks.  The same holds true when there are two outs, the offense was also 6-for-14 with two outs last night, driving in 5 two-out runs.  Over the last five games, they have hit .368 (25-for-68) with two outs.  When the pitcher can’t get either the third strike or the third out, he’ll be in for a very long, short night.

Additionally, the late-inning thumping is starting to develop as a definite pattern.  Through five innings last night, the Cards had 2 runs on 3 hits.  Over the last four innings, they hit .478 and scored 9 runs.  Over the last five games, St Louis has scored a total of 6 runs while hitting just .227 in the first four innings of those games.  From the fifth innings on, the offense has kicked in 39 runs and hit .419.  All of their last ten home runs have come after the fourth inning.

Stephen Piscotty

Mr. Piscotty is heating up nicely in the midst of this resurgence.  After a 4-for-5 night, Piscotty has 11 hits in his last 24 at bats (.458) with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs (this is just the last 5 games) and a .792 slugging percentage.

Stephen’s only at bat against a right-hander last night was his RBI single against Delgado in the ninth.  The right-handed Piscotty is now 8 for his last 19 (.421) against right-handed pitchers.

Stephen took the first pitch in five of his six plate appearances last night, three of them balls and two others called strikes.  As Piscotty dials in, his selectivity improves.  He went 4-for-5 in the at bats where he took the first pitch.  He is 8 for his last 16 with three extra-base hits when laying off the first pitch thrown to him.  He was also 2-for-3 last night and 4-for-12 over the last five games when hitting with two-strikes on him.

Aledmys Diaz

At the very top of this over-achieving offense is rookie shortstop and eighth-place hitter Aledmys Diaz.  With two more hits last night, including the home run that switched the momentum of the game, Diaz is now hitting .591 (13-for-22) over the last five games, with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs of his own.  He has 21 total bases in his last 22 at bats (.955 slugging pct.).

Diaz is another right-handed batter who is currently savaging right-handed pitching.  One-for-two against righties last night, Diaz is 11 for his last 17 (.647) against them with a .941 slugging percentage.

Aledmys’ seventh inning single came on a 2-2 pitch.  Diaz has five hits in his last seven at bats with two strikes on him.

These waves of offense have mostly carried a pitching staff that still hasn’t completely righted itself.  The last time through the rotation, only two starters have managed quality starts, and the team ERA sits at an unimpressive 4.30.  This number includes a 5.52 ERA from the bullpen – most of this damage coming in the sixth inning of Monday’s game in Arizona.

One area where the pitchers have done well over these last five games is getting outs when there are runners in scoring position.  The Diamondbacks were only 1-for-8 last night, and over the five games opposing batters are just .204 hitters (10-for-49) in RISP situations.

Adam Wainwright

Of the 22 batters Adam Wainwright faced last night, only two swung at his first pitch.  For the evening, only four of the 37 Diamondback hitters offered at the first pitch.

Seung-hwan Oh

A bright spot all season, Oh has been one of a handful of relievers who have held solid during these last few choppy games.  Oh extinguished a two-on, one-out sixth inning mess and went on to retire all four batters he faced.  Seung-hwan has pitched in three of the last five games, retiring all eleven batters to face him – striking out six of the eleven.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan allowed a single to the left-hander Lamb, but retired all four of the right-handers to appear against him.  Over these last five games, righties are 0-for-11 with 4 strikeouts against him.

Inherit the Wind Entry 2: Painting the Floor

Rose Wegescheide (L) and Maureen Highkin (R) paint the floor at CCT to look like wood.
Rose Wegescheide (L) and Maureen Highkin (R) paint the floor at CCT to look like wood.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016  @ 7:30 pm.

There is no rehearsal tonight.  The usual commotion that almost always attends the theatre is all but nonexistent.  I have stopped by to bring dinner to my wife (meatball pizza!).

From about 7:00 until well into the night, she and her friend Maureen will be painting the floor (I have just come from a client’s, so I’m not dressed to help).

Every amateur theatre company in the city depends on people like Rose and Maureen – critical volunteers who sacrifice considerable time after work to attend to so many of the tedious chores that have to be done for the organization to function.  They sell concessions, they collect and catalog props, they paint the floors.  What they do, they do with little fanfare, little recognition – and, usually, little company.  In June, as our audiences come in, the first thing they will see of the show is the set – decked out in all its glory and ready for the evening’s drama.  The critics will come and comment on the set design.  The set might even win an award at next season’s TMA ceremony.

But designing the set and executing the design are two different things.  What my Rosie and her friend do is finely honed skill.  Over the course of the next several hours they will transform the theatre floor from a kind of art-deco, shades of gray, square box look that served for The Women into a totally convincing wood grain floor.   It is every bit as much an artistic achievement as anything that any of the actors will do in June.  By then, of course, little will be remembered of this night they gave to the company.  To many, they have just spent a little time painting the floor.  But those of us who bear the day-to-day operation of this company understand the debt we owe them.

It is 10:40 pm and my Rosie just got home.  She is pretty tired and fairly sore, but she comes home wearing that artists’ satisfaction that comes from doing very well what only a very few can do at all.

 

Inherit the Wind Entry 1: Blocking the Show

(This is the first installment of a production diary of Inherit the Wind.  For an explanation of what this post is doing in a baseball blog, read the Inherit the Wind page.)

You are, perhaps, wondering how these things begin.  Un-romantic as it may seem, it begins with a lot of standing around.

Of course, that’s just the actors.  Director Mark Neels, Assistant Director Darrious Varner and their designers have been planning and researching for months.  On the theoretical level, Inherit the Wind has been alive and flourishing in Mark’s head and heart for years.

But, when theory re-casts itself into reality, there is always a lot of standing around.  It is Monday, April 18 and we are blocking the crowd scenes.  The cast is a small army of more than 30 and most of us are present and milling about in the cafeteria.

If you are unfamiliar with the space where the Clayton Community Theatre rehearses and performs, the South Campus of Washington University was formerly a high school.  The theatre is upstairs and on the first floor is the old cafeteria.  When the theatre is unavailable – as it is tonight, for some reason – we rehearse downstairs in the cafeteria.  A few tables and chairs artfully arranged in a cleared area mark out the essential landmarks of the set.  Most of us sit in the “offstage” area waiting to enter.

Matthew Harrison Brady is arriving in town and, several at a time, the town is turning out to meet him.  Every few lines, another group of townspeople comes on, so every few lines the scene halts as Mark (more traffic cop than director at this point) brings the next group on, explaining where they are going and why.  Mark is very much in his element.  His excitement is contagious as he brings shape to a mostly chaotic scene.  Dr. Mark, I should say, as the young director is actually a PhD in history.

Inherit the Wind – speaking of history – is loosely based on the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.  The play has several meaty roles, but centers around the two lawyers, Matthew Harrison Brady (the William Jennings Bryan character) and Henry Drummond (the play’s incarnation of Clarence Darrow).  I have had the pleasure of working before with both of these actors and am enjoying watching these characters develop.

Mark Ables, a former board member at CCT, is Brady.  Mark is enormously personable.  He brings an easy smile and a natural warmth to the role.  But for all his easy charm, there is an executive “air” that always attends Mark – something that suggests that he would be perfectly at home chairing executive board meetings in some corporate office somewhere.  All of these aspects inform his portrayal of Brady, who was almost president three times.  Brady, as portrayed by Mark Ables, is, at the same time, very presidential and warmly human.

Jim Danic plays Drummond – Brady’s antagonist.  The two lawyers and actors bring opposite styles to the contest.  Where Brady/Ables is fastidious, Drummond/Danic is unapologetically rumpled.  Drummond/Danic roams the courtroom with a polished carelessness.  Danic’s strength is his clarity.  As Drummond he has little patience with fools or foolish ritual.  The law in his hands bypasses useless procedures and protocols to find the essential “rightness” of the question.  Danic brings an engaging combination of honesty and passion to Drummond.

The crowd scenes over, most of us are dismissed while Mark and the principals remain for further blocking.  There is a long way to go, but we have started.