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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“Bullring”: On and Off the Track

I’ve suffered through my share of staged readings and workshop productions – “The Trouble With Miss Elm,” on Nantucket in June, which was witty but superfluous; more recently “The Playhouse” at the Boston Playwrights’ Theater, which had a beautiful set, a finely-honed cast, and the most dense clutter of allusions I’ve yet read. “Bullring,” written by UMB alum Michael O’Halloran, was both more and less than I expected.

The title may lead you to expect the world of toro y matadoro, but a note in the program informs us that a bullring is a “small half-mile oval track … [with] a bias toward horses with early speed.”

“Bullring” is thoroughly engrossed in the world of betting, and those of us who enjoy trips to Suffolk Downs – or simply appreciate local color – will enjoy the play. O’Halloran handles both the language of doubles and perfectas, and its parallels in romance, with craft. Like dating, racing is an esoteric form, hard to master; there are columns of statistics from past performances, hunches on the next heat, and – sometimes – a little inside betting. And like racing, short-term losses in a relationship often obscure long-term gains.

It took a while for the characters to be established; it was only toward the end of the second scene that I felt familiar with them. It surprised me to learn that Zimmer and Richie already knew Peggy and Barb; that, in fact, the foursome had known each other for a long while – and only now was the prospect of romance brought up. Richie – played by Mike Hoban – carries most of the action. (Unfortunately, many of his lines were cribbed on a racing form, lending his scenes a stilted forward movement.) Brash, vulgar, yet oddly charming, Hoban fuels his character with enough volatility that we share Peggy’s suspicions that something is lurking beneath his surface. But it’s a believable portrait of a lower-class guy, which never diminishes into stereotype.

UMB Drama Professor John Conlon did a noble job of accepting his role with very little lead-time. However, he portrays his character with too much erudition. There’s distinction to be made between Zimmer and Richie, certainly – Zimmer cavalierly turns down Peggy’s advances, while I sense Richie would take advantage of them. But Zimmer seems the type who will always be struggling toward a sense of respectability; he fumbles with words like “anachronism” (meaning to say “mnemonic”), as if large words might somehow make him great.

Barbara Bourgeois and Lynne Moulton do an outstanding job as Peggy and Barb, respectively: two slightly-past-their-prime women trying to outrun Time. Peggy is the more outspoken of the two, still lusty at forty-