Chicago Theatre Company

Basketball has always been a singularly urban sport. It requires no more equipment and space than a ball and hoop and a stretch of flat ground the size of a driveway. It takes no more than one person to play. (Even the most stripped-down game of sandlot baseball requires at least two people, one to hit and one to catch.) And for some black urban males, basketball represents success, power, wealth, respect, the Emerald City, the end of the rainbow, all the good things life can offer.

The protagonists of Alonzo D. Lamont Jr.’s That Serious He-Man Ball are no disaffected ghetto adolescents, however, but middle-aged adults carrying trendy bags for their gear, wearing expensive sneakers, and possessing not one but two clean, well-kept Spaldings. Twin is an executive with the Xerox Corporation, Sky is a job counselor for a social-service organization, and Jello is an author with a graduate degree. Close friends in high school, they have met every Saturday afternoon since then to shoot baskets and bullshit. Try as they might on this day, however, to revive the innocence and optimism of their youth with chatter of games and girls, they find it more and more difficult to avoid the fact that they are grown men who have made their choices and must live with them.

That Serious He-Man Ball is not structured as a linear narrative but as a symposium at which the question “What is the measure of a man?” is argued. The sound and motion of the ball act as chorus. Twin is chastised by his compatriots for his position as a “showpiece minority” for the establishment, his marriage to a “Jew-y American Princess,” and his recent recommendation for promotion of a white man over a less qualified black. He defends himself by citing his substantial salary. Jello is reproved by Twin for his chronic unemployment, by Sky for his “dry-ass lit-ra-ture” that fails to address black concerns, and by both of them for his lack of dedication, seemingly to anything. Jello defends himself by citing the adoration of his fans, particularly his many female fans. Sky is accused of refusing to change with the times and dispensing outdated and futile advice to those he professes to be helping. He defends himself by citing his belief in his people and his refusal to compromise as his two friends have done.

Money, sex, and pride. Are these not the measures in all of our culture? Twin, Sky, and Jello could just as easily be three men playing football in Hegewisch or softball in Highland Park. They could be Latino, Asian, or even female. Didn’t we all think, as teenagers, that we were gonna make it big someday (especially if we were teenagers in the mid- to late 60s, as these three were)? And didn’t we all have to change our plans along the way? These men have made some uncomfortable decisions–“Why’d we stop being rebels?” asks Twin, even after all three have had a laugh at the affectations of their school days, when they fancied themselves “intimidating black muthafuckas” and responded to every slight with shouts of “white muthafuckas!” And their attempts to justify those decisions by denigrating the alternatives are crises through which everyone must pass who suddenly realizes that this journey is approaching its halfway mark. Some of us change direction in mid-life, and others learn to accept their lives as they are. “We have to be easy on each other or . . . the fear will reach up and bite us dead in the face,” Jello declares. “Game plan’s got to be better than this,” insists Twin. “From here on out, let’s just be human muthafuckas, at least.” Sky concludes, and they all concur, “Real human muthafuckas–at the very least.”

This Chicago Theatre Company exploration of male confusion in late-20th-century America is prevented from becoming another piece of didactic dry-ass lit-ra-ture not only by Lamont’s keen ear but by the superlative teamwork of Johnny Lee Davenport as Twin, Glenn Bradshaw Collins as Sky, and Thomas Anderson Marks as Jello. Under the direction of Donald Douglas, they keep a potentially maudlin script under a control as sure and sensitive as the control they exercise over the ball at all times (a very important consideration in CTC’s tiny performance space). This is a production that will probably go unnoticed by the NBA but should by rights attract the attention of the Jeff committee.