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Goethe Institut – Main Stage

Remaining Performances: Friday, July 20, 10:30 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 12 p.m. Thursday, July 26, 8 p.m. Saturday, July 28, 5:15 p.m.

They say: “A one-man show that is the first of its kind! The Play About The Coach takes the audience courtside into the final minutes of a high stakes game as a coach’s world comes crashing down around him.”

Ian’s Take: The Play About the Coach starts at the end. And it might be a very final end indeed for the nameless coach, who declares his death at a press conference after a basketball game that, judging from the questions being lobbed at him by the invisible press corps, hasn’t ended well. One of those queries in particular stops him in his tracks: “Did you make the wrong call?”

The coach’s reflection over that question takes us back to the final few minutes of that game, and the rest of this one-man show is taken up by a real-time look at those agonizing final minutes, which stretch out to completely unrealistic proportions to fill out the play’s 60-minute running time. That expansion of time is just one of the ways in which the play sidesteps reality, as the experience of the coach becomes a surrealistic nightmare of Kafka-esque proportions.

Writer Paden Fallis, who also plays the coach, expertly uses suggestion and implication to leave the exact nature of this situation blurred, and up to the audience’s interpretation. The questions are many: Is this some sort of purgatory for the coach, left to relive his worst moment again and again? Who’s on the other end of the frequent phone calls he receives on the sidelines—-whom he is constantly trying to push off until later? How is it that he’s made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tourney with a player who’s completely blind? And how did he only find out on this night? Possibly related, what’s the significance of the fact that he seems to be going progressively blind as the game wears on?

There’s also a secondary story relating to his past relationship with other team’s coach, hinted at in interludes where the crowd noise dies away and the lights dim, and the coach takes on a reflective, mournful tone. Then the game comes flooding back into his consciousness, and he resumes stalking the sidelines like a big cat and barking orders at his players.

The Play About the Coach is packed with layers of meaning, ultimately coming down to the finality of the choices we make, and our inability to rescue ourselves from the disappointment that arises from a poor decision. If any play I’ve seen so far at Fringe this year demands repeated viewings to help unpack it, this is the one. And if there’s any performance I want to see again, it’s Fallis’ tragic and magnetic portrayal of the coach, which turns on a dime from anxious uncertainty to feral rage to beaten-down melancholy. There were times when he looks at something happening on the “court,” or gestures to an invisible player or assistant, and I found myself following his gaze, as if my brain still expected to see what he was seeing. Even knowing from the start of the play how the game was going to turn out, it’s impossible not to hope that somehow this time that final basket is going to find the bottom of the net; I imagine on a subsequent viewing, I’ll still hold out hope, just like the coach, that things might be different.

See It If: You always felt the darker side of  March Madness could be explored more adequately.

Skip It If: Your disinterest in basketball can’t be mitigated by surrealistic personal crises.