Footsteps Theatre Company

at the Hemenway United Methodist Church

Penny O’Connor’s Dig, Volley, Spike! contains elements of the “heroes lose, heroes work hard, heroes win” plot utilized in countless novels, plays, and films. A bunch of motley, sad-sack rookies/recruits/amateurs/nerds overcome great obstacles to become a smoothly functioning team of athletes/soldiers/cops/dancers; after an 11th-hour crisis in which it looks like All May Be Lost, they come through to win the big game/big battle/big case/big bucks. It all goes back to the ancient heroic myths, and it works as well now as it did for Jason and the Argonauts. The play also contains metaphorical implications in its title. A “dig” is a maneuver by which a ball about to touch the ground may be put back into play; a “volley” moves it up and close to the net where a “spike” can put it over the net. Rising from the bottom all the way to the top.

The play also reiterates the thesis that athletic activities provide young males with valuable “character-building” experience and train them to be autonomous, responsible adults–and proposes that the same might be true for females. It also explores female-bonding rituals–the shared discussion of thwarted ambitions, fear of flying, job versus babies, two-timing boyfriends, insensitive husbands, incapacitated parents. Although it has only one tearful hug, it does have a nice double-handed handclasp and lots of jubilant high fives.

The story follows a last-place women’s volleyball team, one member of which joined only because the aerobics class was full. The team members gradually put aside their personal differences: Ace is extremely competitive; Molly is afraid of the pressure that winning demands; Christine is a housewife and mother; and Elaine is the model of independence. They also learn to face their own fears: Ace once played national-league volleyball, but suddenly began to lose her nerve at crucial times. “[Women] have been brought up over the years not to succeed,” explains Elaine. “What we need is the courage to fail.” Guess who scores the winning point in the Big Game?

Little by little, these women take control of their lives: the teenage Basher gives “the big elbow” to her unfaithful boyfriend; Christine defies her dominating husband. They then go on to victory–not only as athletes, but as mature human beings.

Dig, Volley, Spike! never deviates for an instant from the predictable plot; the social commentaries and insights are standard feminist party line. But none of this ever gets tedious or heavy-handed, because we’re having such a good time watching these exuberant women play volleyball and shoot the shit. The team calls itself the “Gettes,” as in “suffragettes.” At one point, they parody the Jets’ song from West Side Story: “When you’re a Gette, when the shit hits the fan / you’ve got sisters around, you’re a family wo-man.”

Staging this play in the gym at the Hemenway United Methodist Church was a logical idea–after all, most of the play is set in a church gymnasium. During intermission the stage crew came out to bat the ball around a little, and they encouraged a number of audience members to join in. The only drawback is that the acoustics are those of a gym. The minimal scenery absorbs some of the distortion and Holland Tunnel echo–not enough, however, to save the entr’acte music, which is much too loud. The result is that a good part of O’Connor’s witty dialogue and necessary character exposition is lost.

Honors for the superlatively accurate English accents go to dialect coach Gillian Lane-Plescia. Honors, too, go to director Susan V. Booth for a group of actresses who play together with the precision and coordination of–well, a team. Particularly memorable are Vita Dennis as the wisecracking Elaine and Lynne Magnavite as Ace, an achiever so intense you expect her to glow in the dark. Blair Glaser does what she can with the stereotypically ditsy Basher, as does Ruth Arnold with the suburban homemaker Christine. Andrea Dzavik, as the sweet-but-klutzy Molly, and Cyndee Redlinger, as Jo, the veteran coach trying for one more season, bring strength and dignity to their roles.

There are plenty of plays dedicated to male-bonding ceremonies, but it’s refreshing to see plays that celebrate camaraderie and sportsmanship (all right, sportspersonship) among females as well. Don’t get the idea that this is a for-women-only show, however. The benefits of volleyball as a good, clean, sporting pastime are not gender restricted in any way. Men are welcome–if they can handle the tampon jokes, the leg-shaving jokes, and the shower-room humor. (“Three holes in a row–you learn new things every day!”) Hey, it’s 1989 –girls can play drop-the-soap, too.