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Bleacher Bums

Sam Bauman
Appeal Staff Writer
Dave Josten, who plays the part of the cheerleader in the Proscenium Players' production of "Bleacher Bums," waits for rehearsal to start at the Brewery Arts Center.
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It’s Major League time, and you’re right in the game at the Proscenium Players’ production of “Bleacher Bums,” running the next three weekends at the Donald W. Reynolds Theatre in the Brewery Arts Center.

As a matter of fact, you are the game. You sit opposite the outfield wall, facing the actors who play the Bums. It’s got to be a delightful experience.

(A personal disclaimer: As a Chicagoan of many happy years, I used to sneak out of the Playboy Building on lazy summer afternoons and make my way to Wrigley Field, right in the heart of town. I’m obviously prejudiced about the Cubs. Please bear with me.)

This is a raucous, funny show. Even the program is funny. It lists Joe Mantegna as the guy who conceived the show, then writers Roberto Custer, Richard Fire, Dennis Franz, Stuart Gordon, Josephine Paoletti, Dennis Paoli, Carolyn Purgy-Gordon, Michael Saad, Keith Szarabajka and Ian Williams. Plays written by committee yet?

The story is about a group of Cubs fans who sit in the Section 37 of the bleachers in beloved Wrigley Field. There are also a couple of Cardinal fans stuck in just because the actors wanted to be in the show. Just like the Cardinals!

Pat Josten, usually backstage, makes her first appearance in 25 years. Also in the cast is Maize Harris Jesse, who claims she was a cheerleader.

Most of all, and that is meant literally, is Dave Josten, the chief cheerleader of the fans. Shirtless, with a Cubs helmet (not actually, but there is a “C” on the cap) and an arrangement of tubes that trickle beer from a can to his mouth, Josten is big and active and pretty much the pivot in the show.

You gotta admire him for getting out there shirtless with a big “C” on his substantial tummy. He rocks.

Keep an eye out for Erin Keith, who plays Melody, a good-looking Cubs fan. She gets hit on by James Axelson, who poses as a Playboy “talent” scout. (Define talent as you like.) She wrinkles him out and flees to the side of Joseph Paslov, the man with the portable radio.

Director Carla J. Wilson, a veteran with the Players, has a tough job with this show as it required actors to work on two levels: the action on the field and the action among the Bums.

“The cast has to work as an ensemble, and at the same time keep the subplots moving along,” Wilson says. “I’m lucky to have a cast who can work together.”

Producer is Jay Meierdierck, who doesn’t have much of a history with the Cubs, but was a 15th round draft pick in the English Little League. Liz Mitchell is stage manager and says she would love to manage the Cubs.

The voice you hear doing the play-by-play is that of Tom Strekal, who is from Cleveland but has no problem with the Cubs since the Indians probably will never play them.

“Bleacher Bums” is billed as a nine-inning comedy. There’s no need for extra innings here; any more wit could be overkill.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and April 29-30, May 6-7 and 2 p.m. May 1 at the Reynolds Theatre. Tickets are $12 general admission, $10 for members and seniors and students. No late seating; you don’t show up after the first batter at a ballgame, do you?

An opening-night champagne celebration will he held after the Friday performance, where guests will be able to check on actors’ loyalty to the Cubbies.

OK, now it’s up to you. “Batting next …”