"When it comes to the outcome of the game today, I can guarantee you a 'War Horse' victory," said Joel Reuben Ganz, one of the show's cast members. Was the fix in? Was this an Italian soccer match? Naw, it was a typical afternoon in the Broadway show league, in which teams representing most Broadway productions play softball against each other on Thursday afternoons.
So why, on this sunny, Gersh-winning, I-like-New-York-in-June day, as a breeze blew through the playing fields on Central Park's Great Lawn and the castle behind the Delacorte Theater could be glimpsed in the distance, was Ganz so confident? Had the "War Horse" squad been so imperially dominant against opponents thus far in the season that the outcome was preordained?
Not quite. Much as I love these actors, I must be honest and report that their record as we approach the summer solstice is 1-3. Their sole victory came against the squad representing "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"That was quite a thing against 'Jesus,'" Ganz told me. Was it a nail-biter with a thrilling finish? Nail-biter, no, because the score was lopsided. Thrilling finish, yes. "We ended the game on a triple play," Ganz said. "A pop fly, a tag-out, and someone thrown out at home plate."
I have to say that I was impressed, sufficiently so to make me inclined to excuse the team's losing record. After all, this is a league in which long-running shows, not to mention the team fielded by Local One, the stagehands union, have the same members year after year, allowing for powerful team cohesion.
What the "War Horse" team lacks in depth of experience it makes up for in quantity of participation. So many of the show's actors - and this is a group comprised almost entirely of actors rather than crew - turn up to play each week that not all of them can be accommodated consistently in the line-up.
Except for this week, with the game I began describing at the start of this blog posting. Owing to some Broadway show league rule that I don't fully understand, this week's schedule was about "rivalry games." Which meant that our team split into two squads, both from the show, and inter-league play became inter-mural play: "War Horse" vs. "War Horse."
It was harder than usual to keep the sides straight, since both squads sported orange-and-black jerseys emblazoned with "War Horse" on the front. At least, most of them wore such a uniform. Stephen James Anthony, who plays Billy in the show, wore a red-and-white shirt with the number 4 and the name Fabregas on it. Anthony is a longtime fan of London's Arsenal soccer team, where the Catalan-born Cesc Fabregas had spent his career until last year, when he was traded to Barcelona.
Anthony reminded me that on this day, Spain's national squad, of which Fabregas is a member, had a Euro 2012 match against Ireland. (Which they easily won, 4-0.) Anthony also told me the names of the two "War Horse" squads. One is called "Rats and Shit" and the other is called "Bloody Whiz Bang." These are phrases taken from dialogue spoken in the play by the character of David, portrayed by David Pegram.
Allow me at this point to be pedantic and point out that in the published script of "War Horse" the speech in question has David describing the conditions of trench warfare, saying "...and the lice and rats and sludge and shit sending us loony." So technically the squad should be called "Rats and Sludge and Shit."
Whatever it's named, that roster of players prevailed this week, 4-2.
Apparently, there can be no sludge when a game is at stake.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com