ACT’s ‘Testmatch’ takes on cricket, colonialism

Political messages are clear in amusing century-spanning premiere

In American Conservatory Theater’s world-premiere “Testmatch,” playwright Kate Attwell cleverly explores the connections between cricket and colonialism across centuries.

Onstage at the Strand Theater, the quirky 90-minute comedic drama takes place in two parts. The scintillating first details the conversation and confrontation between present-day women cricket players from England and India when their world-class match is delayed due to rain in England.

The less successful but still enagaging second section takes place centuries earlier in Bengal, following buffoonish representatives of England’s East India Co. as they ignore the devastating effects of their business on the local population.

ACT Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon directs an impeccable ensemble of six shape-shifting actors.

At the outset, the athletes — who somewhat confusedly have no names — gather in a lounge, frustrated their play has been postponed. (Never mind it seems odd that they’d hang out together, given the possibility of resuming the competition.)

At first, their obscenity-laden banter is fun and light. They gossip and spar about aspects of the game as India 1 (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), India 2 (Lipica Shah) and India 3 (Avanthika Srinivasan) revel over being in the lead at the break, while England 2 (Arwen Anderson) hilariously riffs about how rugby players are better sex partners than cricket players.

Things take a turn when England 1 (Madeline Wise) has a seemingly inexplicable outburst, wildly waving and cracking her bat, while England 3 (Millie Brooks), trying to calm the situation, pours tea.

As the scene comes to satisfying close, the reason for the meltdown becomes apparent, as do the varied motivations of all of the well-developed characters, each with a different stake in the game — which, of course, is a metaphor for geopolitical reality that white men control the world’s resources.

That notion gets reinforced as the action jumps back to the 18th century. Anderson and Brooks don fat suits and powdered wigs (terrific costumes by Beaver Bauer) to become doddering British administrators (called One and Two) in walled enclave in India; Shah is their local assistant, Abhi.

They prance about, inanely discussing rules of cricket and avoiding reality. One shouts at Abhi to give his complaining addict wife (Wise) just enough opium to keep her quiet, both resist a youngster (Srinivasan) who jumps the wall, wanting to play cricket.

Most despicably, they disregard an eloquent speech from a visting Indian envoy (Kumbhani) who describes the famine and death caused by East India’s avaricious business practices.

Although the colonizers’ antics are too wacky to resonate, Attwell offers an entertaining, truly unique take on familiar messages about the nature of power and prevalence of injustice, racism and sexism in the world — even for, or particularly for, Americans who know nothing about cricket.

REVIEW

Testmatch

Presented by American Conservatory Theater

Where: Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 8

Tickets: $30 to $90

Contact: (415) 749-2228, act-sf.org

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