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Tennis doesn't always have love matches: Don't You F**king Say A Word

Don't You F**king Say A Word

Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 4 December 2016
59E59 Theaters, NYC

Review by Lee Kinney

Jeanine Serralles, Michael Braun, Bhavesh Patel, and Jennifer Lim in Don't You F**king Say A Word. Photo by Hunter Canning.

Jeanine Serralles, Michael Braun, Bhavesh Patel, and Jennifer Lim in Don't You F**king Say A Word. Photo by Hunter Canning.

BOTTOM LINE: An agile, energized battle of forehands and egos.

Brian and Russ are tennis partners. Russ (Michael Braun), late thirties, has a volatile temper, an absentee father, a stunted acting career and a hitch in his backhand. Brian (Bhavesh Patel), forty, has a habit of cheating, divorced parents, trouble landing a job, and a weak serve.

This is the rundown given by Leslie and Kate about their boyfriends in the opening moments of Don’t You F**king Say A Word as they begin their investigation of “the incident” that occurred between the two men. The two women (an expertly paired Jennifer Lim and Jeanine Serralles) are co-narrators of a probe into a singular tennis match between Brian and Russ—"the day their friendship, or whatever it was, came to an ignominious end," an exercise to uncover the je ne sais quoi of the male experience and of male friendship.

Playwright Andy Bragen delivers a dexterous and controlled piece of writing, moving the narrative suddenly from the action of the last match, to encounters between the two couples, to previous matches, and eventually to the aftermath of their falling out. As the play volleys back and forth between partial scenes, we learn of a humid September morning, of an early one-set-to-none lead for Brian, of a mid-match episode at the water fountain. As the nuance of the match comes into view, so does the richness and emotional complexity of the relationships.

There is a kind of sumptuousness to the banal details this play rolls carefully back and forth over. You are charmed by the rhythm of a tennis fanatic’s routine and by the mania of their obsession. You become enthralled by the peculiar way a tennis match unfolds, the trajectory of a season, the mind games, the inner monologues.

 

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