★★★½☆ - Satisfying
It’s impossible not to get caught up in the influence of small town high school football in Majestic Repertory Theatre Company’s satisfying three and a half-star, regional premiere presentation of TIGHT END, By Rachel Bykowski, which runs through March 24th.
For student Ash (don’t call her Ashley) Miller (strongly played by McKenna Castro), the daughter of a late legendary quarterback for Westmont High, her life focuses on trying out for and making the Westmont football team. Football is in her blood. Her dream is to catch the winning touchdown pass for the Westmont High Titans’ Homecoming game. In order to make the team, Ash will have to prove she is one of the guys even if that means sacrificing her body for the love of the game.
Her self-belief and determination eventually win over her Mom, Darla (Cristina Florea), her Coach (Adam Martinez), and her quarterback, Sam Jones (Miles Nelson). The heartfelt, passionate performances of this acting ensemble carry the audience along an emotional roller-coaster as they each share personal memories while working to protect and guide Ash on her daring quest.
Director Troy Heard does a wonderful job balancing the intimacy and the pressure of his cast’s interaction throughout. His production team has created a well-defined, compressed setting in such close proximity to the audience that they are toe-to-toe with actors breaking the fourth wall to speak with them directly. The team includes scenic and sound design by The Design Ninjas; costume design by Mary Wantland; and lighting design by Gina Manago.
Playwright Rachel Bykowski, a Chicago native, writes “To explore the many facets of womanhood and raise awareness to social issues. I find myself analyzing male/female power dynamics, male privilege, and gender roles. The question, “What does it mean to be a woman,” haunts my characters. My womanhood, anger, and playwriting are tangled together in these knots of words I call my plays.”
Her full-length plays have been featured with The National New Play Network (NNPN) in a workshop at the Kennedy Center for the MFA Playwrights’ Festival in 2016. She was a top 20 finalist for CulturalDC’s Source Theatre Festival in 2017, received Honorable Mention for the Jane Chambers 2017 Student Playwriting Award, and was the runner-up for the 2018 Todd McNerney Playwriting Award. Tight End had its World Premiere in 2017 at the 20% Theatre Company in Chicago and was chosen as one of the Best Shows in Chicago that year.
The number of girls playing tackle football is still low compared to boys — of the 225,000 athletes in Pop Warner youth football programs, for example, just 1,100 are girls. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, of the 5.5 million Americans who report playing tackle football, 596,000 — or 10.9 percent — are female.
It is notable that more girls want to play even as annual survey by the National Association of State High School Federations reported that participation in high school football went down 3.5 percent over the past five years.