I’m not the best bowler in the world, but when it comes to sports-related philosophies, I think I understand the zen of bowling the best. The approach to the lane, the draw, the release, the not knowing whether you’ll end up in the gutter or with a strike ... it’s a sport whose basic philosophies in many ways mirror real-life approaches to the problems of life and love.
And that’s pretty much the philosophy behind “More Fun Than Bowling,” currently on stage at the Chenango River Theatre in Greene.
Set in a small midwestern town sometime in the late 70s, the small cast of “More Fun Than Bowling” are relatable types you might just as easily see in Chenango County. It’s a sentimental tale told with pathos and humor, and hits the proverbial strike on both notes. The main character, Jake Tomlinson (Kerry Glamsch), is an everyman who had once chance to get away from his small-town upbringing, but gave it up for love. That didn’t work out so well, but it did give him a precocious daughter, Molly (Ellen Warner), who’s surprisingly insightful given her young years.
Jake and Molly make a good team, running the Dust Bowl lanes in backwater Turtle Rapids, but Jake’s intent on filling the void left by his wayward wife, and marries two hometown girls in quick succession. First it’s Lois (Heidi Weeks) and a little while later, Loretta (Jennifer Corby). See, Jake’s a little unlucky in love – and his chosen mates are even unluckier. Both Lois and Loretta die in tragic bowling accidents.
There’s a sentence you don’t see every day.
It’s played partly for laughs, but “More Fun Than Bowling” is equal parts comedy and drama, even though it takes place entirely in a graveyard. Convinced “someone who knows” is plotting his imminent death, Jake keeps vigil in the desolate graveyard where he buried two of his wives. He’s visited there by Molly and flashbacks of his late wives ... but who’s that mysterious and menacing stranger lurking in the background (Mr. Dyson, played by Jim Wicker)? Maybe Jake’s not as paranoid as everyone seems to think ... there’s a reason he’s drawn to the cemetery.
Speaking of the graveyard, that set’s another star in itself. Basically it’s a big multi-level pile of gravel, but set designer Bill Lelbach (not-so-incidentally the show’s director, to boot) pulled off an amazingly realistic setpiece in such a small space. When the program lists three people as “dirt wranglers,” you know there was a Herculean effort involved.
As the central character, Wicker is a joy to watch as Jake, the affable bowling alley owner. He’s a guy you’d love to have a beer with and bowl a few games. But marry him? Not such a good idea – although both Weeks (who CRT audiences will remember from “Other People’s Money) and Corby shine with radiance in the light of his hick town love. You just wish they’d stayed away from the Dust Bowl!
Check this one out. It really is more fun than bowling – and you don’t have to wear those silly shoes.
CRT’s production runs through Aug. 9 in the theater at 991 State Route 12, 3 miles south of Greene. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., plus Sunday matinees at 2. For reservations, call 656-8499 (TIXX).