The American Legacy
Metropolitan Playhouse
The American Legacy

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Reviews - Give and Go

New Theatre Corps

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Most people with lifelong obsessions remember where it all started: Brandt Johnson’s love of basketball started as a child with a Nerf ball and removable plastic hoop that could be reattached to any spare surface. In his one-man show, Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters, Johnson tells the story of Billy Tyler, a goofy, hopeful athlete who practices hoops nonstop on his homemade blacktop and carries his basketball to class. In the process, he plays a variety of characters, from the sheepish grins and baggy nylons of Tyler’s awkward teens to the touchy-feely empathy of a guidance counselor or the boot-camp freshman coach, Craig. This high-speed performance (he rapidly changes clothes and character onstage) complements the ways in which Billy’s passion for the game propels him past each roadblock.

It also sets a nice contrast with Billy’s decision to forgo the slim chances of making the NBA, choosing to apply his work ethic and competitive streak to Wall Street. The designer suits and growing commissions only keep him away from his first love for so long, however: one day on his way to lunch he sees a game of pickup across the street, unbuttons his suit to reveal a jersey underneath and shouts, “Hey, fellas! I got next!”

It’s a delightful performance, brimming with bright-eyed optimism, and Johnson’s writing has just as much heart. Even a simple memory of the time he started in a varsity game while still on the JV team, brings a sense of warmth and modesty that is not overdone. The tough life lessons never get preachy and the soul-searching always serves a purpose, from the direction Billy’s life took after college to realizing (five years later) the wrong decision he made.

Director Ron Steaton helps Johnson create space in a small black-box theater through crafty blocking and strategic props, turning the stage into a full-court gymnasium so deftly the audience doesn’t pick up on the illusion. Original music by Keth “Wild Child” Middleton completes the sports atmosphere with thumping electronic bass lines when the going gets tough and trailing, high-pitched flourishes that bring Billy back to his childhood idealism. Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters, may be about losing, but the story and writer/actor behind it wins over audiences.

 

Theatre Life
By Isa Goldberg

As dramatic genre, the one-person show has been rising like a phoenix. The sheer number of them - many of them quite powerful – is at a zenith.

Watching “Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters,” Brandt Johnson’s one-man show about his career as a basketball player, provokes me to wonder what makes these shows such audience pleasers. There’s “Circumcize Me,” for instance, in which Catholic-born Yisrael (ne Christopher) Campbell reveals his “spiritual journey” from a recovering addict to an orthodox Jew. Campbell’s alcoholism, he claims, began at the age of nine and continued until he was seventeen years old. His conversion to Judaism, on the other hand, is a life long commitment which allows him to be supported by the state of Israel for as long as he is a citizen (of course, he doesn’t address that issue in his stand up routine).

For Carrie Fisher whose one-woman show, “Wishful Drinking,” drew cheers from audiences and critics alike this past fall, alcohol seems to have been less of a problem than pills. In any event, it’s her celebrity status (along with her gift of gab and comedic sensibility) that makes her so interesting to us and keeps her “in business.” Add addiction to that and you have great fodder for a spiritual journey.

But hardly any of us ever “recover” by just going to the gym…or working out on the basketball court the way Brandt Johnson or his alter ego, Billy Tyler, does. And if you’re a white guy doing it, the challenge it offers to “spiritual quest” must be right up there – on the level of losing a lot of weight, giving up your morning cup of coffee, or suddenly living without any crutches at all. To make matters worse, so to speak, Billy never was an addict. As he describes himself - from toddler through adulthood, he never had a bad habit in his life – except, of course, his attachment to a basketball.   

In fact, he took to clutching onto that hard rubber sphere the way Snoopy did with his blanket. Not his comparison, but an apt one for a high school freshman who, having never scored a point on the team, drags his basketball with him to every class, cafeteria and rest room he goes to. Finally, Billy’s high school guidance counselor (one of several other characters Johnson portrays) exhorts the freshman to give up his dream; a decision he finally feels forced to make after graduating from Williams College without a single NBA offer.

I’m still wondering how many NBA offers have been made to Williams College grads, but that’s even more grist for Billy’s adage, “It wasn’t going to be easy. But I just thought if I worked hard enough…” Finally, after a stint as an investment banker at “Goldman Stanley,” Billy gives it all up to train, practicing his game on every court in Manhattan.

Why I didn’t fall in love with Billy’s tale the way I did with Yisrael’s or Carrie’s (born to Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds) has to do with his lack of moral turpitude, his straight laced, honest life style and the message it offers us about pursuing our own dreams.

When Billy joins the losing team that goes on tour with the Harlem Globetrotters, the one they play against in every single game, his coach Winnie (a Southern man portrayed by Johnson) confides in him, “you ain’t dancing.” Without giving it all away, Billy learns to get through all the hoops he needs to score success.