‘The XIX’ An Exciting Play About Sports at The Old Globe
Sports has to be the most difficult type of activity to put on stage. In a film, for example, real competition can be shown, and audience members can appreciate the competition being portrayed. Think of the brilliant 1981 Oscar winner, “Chariots of Fire,” and you’ll appreciate how exciting sports films can be. On stage, you have to take other routes to achieve the same level of excitement. I recall (fondly, actually), my high school drama teacher’s attempt to produce “Ben Hur” in the school’s auditorium. When it came time for the famous chariot race, the cast gathered at the front of the stage and told each other in excited voices what was going on.
The Old Globe doesn’t make that mistake in staging The XIXth, a tale from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. This Olympics was famous for the two winning sprinters, Tommie Smith (Korey Jackson) and John Carlos (Biko Eisen-Martin) raising black gloved fists during the playing of the USA national anthem. Kemp Powers’ play does include a scene where the race is run (and I won’t spoil it by describing how director Carl Cofield stages it).
A fair amount of the almost two hours with no intermission play is spent behind the scenes, with not only the two athletes who were determined to protest but also Australian sprinter Peter Norman (Patrick Marron Ball), who was favored to be on the medal platform with them, and who, in fact, placed second. Wringing their hands behind the scenes were Avery Brundage (Mark Pinter), the autocratic head of the International Olympic Committee, who eventually was forced out of his position for racism, sexism and anti-Semitism, and Jesse Owens (Michael Early), the hero of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, who counseled against the protest. One of the athletes’ mothers (Kimberly Scott) was even recruited to express concern, as was a countryman of Pete’s (Christian Coulson).
Mr. Powers has written an engaging play, heavy on talk with only sporadic bits of action, that nevertheless sympathizes with his protesters and not with the powers-that-be. Even so, Mr. Powers does not lionize his heroes and takes the story beyond their protest to detail the aftermath, both for the protestors personally and, by extension, for their cause.
Nevertheless, the image of the protest at the medal presentation ceremony for the 1968 200-meter race remains one of the most-remembered moments in Olympic history.
Kudos to Mr. Jackson, Mr. Eisen-Martin, and actually, to Mr. Marron Ball, for inspiring performances.
The Globe has given The XIXth a fine production, with a creative team that includes Riw Rakkulchon (Scenic Design), Mika Eubanks (Costume Design), Allen Lee Hughes (Lighting Design), and David R. Molina (Original Music and Sound Design). Stage management was by Marie Jahelka (Production Stage Manager), and Kendra Stockton (Assistant Stage Manager).
The Nineteenth runs through April 23.
Performs on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in the Old Globe Theatre, part of the Globe’s Conrad Prebys Theatre Center in San Diego’s Balboa Park (1363 Old Globe Way). The performance schedule is Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling (619) 23-GLOBE (234-5623), or by visiting https://www.theoldglobe.org.
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