I generally don’t do theater reviews, but seeing as how this one was in Seattle, and it’s about the 2001 Seattle Mariners, and I got invited to see it, I figured I would.
The story takes place in the fictional Jet City Diner, owned by Joe, the seasoned Mariners fan, and staffed by his angry twenty-four year old son Jesse (Justin Emerick), and Sandy (Jaime Saginor), the waitress looking to launch her photography career, while serving as arbiter for the father-and-son’s disputes on life and baseball.
While the overall work equates to that of a high-A minor league baseball game, it does manage to pull off some pretty good moments.
Jesse looks at baseball through stats and numbers while he views his own life with odds-defying abandon. His perpetual joining and leaving of rock bands while not heeding the advice of his girlfriend Brie and going to school or becoming more invested in the diner creates what becomes a moment of personal growth that shapes the second half of the play.
Camille (Natalie Jones), the grad student who left New York for the UW, is the highlight of the cast — her abilities are highlighted not only by being the lone Yankee fan, but because she displays the widest range of emotions on the set. The budding romance between her and – what else – the computer programming “nerd” Zach (Martin Pierce, the play’s writer) is cute and shows some signs of earning its mettle during the 9/11 attacks, when Camille’s father and brother go missing during the collapse of the Twin Towers.
What surprised me most is that the play relied on baseball as little as it did. While a platoon corps of local radio hosts provide a narrative that recalls the Opening Day win against the A’s, the blowup against the Indians, and the run to 116 wins and the playoffs, the interaction between the story and season lack the grace of a well executed hit-and-run.
2001 was a historical year for the Mariners to say the least, and for those of us who lived through it a pretty magical one. While it certainly wasn’t ’95, it was an amazing year that sadly didn’t get captured as eloquently as it should have, given that it was marketed as a baseball-related play. Compared to Jonathan Mahler’s The Bronx is Burning, the weave between baseball and the rest of life is much looser.
While Lightning In a Bottle isn’t a big league home run, it is an enjoyable work that successfully uses the common bond of baseball to tell the story of several people’s lives. Locals will find it an easy play to like, with its jokes about the Viaduct and other Seattle-isms, while everyone will appreciate it’s charm and ability to surprise with some well timed fundamentals.