Endzone | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Endzone, Factory Theater Company. Just as the big city was once the land of mystery and monsters for American authors, so the wide-open spaces are strange and wonderful to young playwrights in the last years of the 90s. The setting for Michael Mazzara's glimpse of bucolic culture is the Great Plains outpost of Crenshaw ("somewhere between Omaha and Springfield"), where a drifter in urban-cowboy drag finds himself among citizens embroiled in "the fever"--an ecstatic obsession with winning fueled by the rivalry between the Crenshaw High School Cougars and the neighboring Fort Olsen Owls. An offshoot sect--also headquartered at the tavern that constitutes Crenshaw's social center, the Endzone--is equally passionate about an upcoming bowling tournament. As tensions mount in a barroom contest of moral and physical courage, the mighty are brought low, the faithful are rewarded, and the true heroes--or what passes for such in this universe--are revealed.

Given the Factory Theater's steel-sinewed, stentorian, take-no-prisoners ensemble, nothing would have been easier than to ridicule these hicks and their petty concerns. But under the precise direction of Steve Walker, they create whole, engaging, surprisingly recognizable characters who linger in our memories even as we pray never to be stranded in a town like theirs. Mazzara's script unravels slightly in its final moments, but despite the boisterousness and vulgarity of its setting, Endzone remains satire at its most sophisticated. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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