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Fan loyalty plays out in 'Bleacher Bums'

In the wide world of sports, you could argue that there are no other fans quite like Chicago Cubs fans — fiercely loyal, unabashedly optimistic — despite the fact that their beloved boys in blue haven't won a World Series in 106 years.

Likewise, there's probably no work that depicts Wrigley Field disciples and their uncommon unconditional support with as much heart as "Bleacher Bums," which Naperville's BrightSide Theater will present Thursday to March 30 at the Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall, 31 S. Ellsworth Ave.

"It's a homegrown show about Chicagoans and the Chicago Cubs," said Jeffrey Cass, BrightSide's artistic director. "It's time to think past 'Chiberia' and think of spring training and for some Chicago Cubs baseball."

Cass describes "Bleacher Bums" as a piece that successfully combines two unlikely pastimes — baseball and theater. The hopeful characters and the script's attention to detail amp up the show's authenticity.

"Everyone who's some semblance of a Cubs fan can relate to it," said director Greg Kolack. "The show really captures those characters. It's a lot of fun, it has a lot of humor in it — it's a wonderfully written show."

Conceived in 1977 by Joe Mantegna and first produced by Chicago's Organic Theater Company, "Bleacher Bums" follows eight characters watching nine innings of a Cubs matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals one summer afternoon in the outfield stands of The Friendly Confines.

"It's held up 40 years because Cubs fans haven't changed in 40 years," Kolack said. No matter the decade, devoted fans of the Loveable Losers remain steadfast.

"They are the eternal optimists — sure, they'd like the Cubs to win — but win or lose, they still love them," Kolack said. "The Cubs can be in last place and still sell 30,000 tickets. They are not fair-weather fans. They have a great allegiance and they just have fun."

While "Bleacher Bums" has plenty of light moments, it's actually quite a complicated play to perform.

"It's a difficult show to memorize — there are many different conversations going on at once," said Kolack. "Plus, they are memorizing an entire baseball game, pitch by pitch."

All eight cast members have to follow every play of the game together as if the action were happening right in front of them at the ballpark.

"It's a really simple show set-wise," said Kolack of the basic bleacher design. "It's up to the cast to bring the audience into Wrigley Field, not the set."

Kolack said when directing the cast, he used the analogy of the Island of Misfit Toys: Outside the stadium these characters may not be friends nor even speak to one another, but for three hours in the bleachers during the game they are like family.

Cass concurs that these connections are a crucial part of "Bums."

"Going to a game, a concert or the theater, you are in an area and sharing the same experience, and in that shared experience you meet and talk to people you might not ever meet anywhere else," Cass said. "There's a bond from that shared experience and a connection to others."

Shows are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 630-637-7469. Tickets are $24 for adults and $20 for seniors and students.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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