omplete QPORIT: HEADSTRONG

Sunday, April 29, 2012

 

HEADSTRONG




Ensemble Studio Theatre
Tackles Football's Post-Concussion Syndrome
World Premiere
HEADSTRONG
By Patrick Link,
directed by William Carden
with Ron Canada, Tim Cain, Alexander Gemignani & Nedra McClyde

(UPDATE - 5/2/2012) Today's death of Junior Sean, together with a death by suicide of another player within the last month, plus today's news of suspensions of Saints' players for getting a bounty for rough hits highlights the importance, relevance, and timeliness of HEADSTRONG!
 




HEADSTRONG
Nedra McClyde and Ron Canada
Photo by Gerry Goodstein
 
 

HEADSTRONG is an earnest, effective play about an issue that should be of great concern to every parent and every athlete -- the current studies into possible brain damage from recurring trauma to the brain.-- not just major trauma but also repetitive minor trauma.

(Note: following a discussion of the issues of the play, see below for a review which - Warning! -- will containing spoilers!)

Recent studies have sown suspicion that contact sports like football and even head-banging activities like repeatedly heading the ball in soccer could cause measurable and observable damage to the brain, which cumulatively could express itself in pathological mental behavior.

The play concerns itself with attempts to obtain the brain of a football player who died young after exhibiting behavioral symptoms that suggested he had suffered brain damage.

The current state of medical research is a need to correlate post-mortem studies of a brain with features that might be observable (through specialized MRI's or other brain scanning technologies) while a player is alive.


The most pressing issues are

-- When should a concussion in a professional player prevent them from returning to a game or playing again?

-- What evidence of possible damage to a child’s brain should be sufficient to require changes in the rules of football, soccer, or other sports, or even ban them entirely from schools?

-- To what extent does the value of sports override the possibility of possible injury to the brain?

Following one preview to the play, there was an interesting discussion of these issues with Irvin Muchnick, a leading reporter and writer on concussions in sports & Dr. Annegret Dettwiler-Danspe.ckgruber, Associate Research Scholar at The Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

VIDEOS OF THE POST-SHOW DISCUSSION:
http://ensemblestudiotheatre.org/now-playing/current-productions/estsloan-presents-headstrong/


HERE IS AN ARTICLE ABOUT THE WORK AT PRINCETON:
http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S31/80/06C59/index.xml?section=featured

HERE IS THE BOOK BY IRVIN MUCHNICK:




Damage to the brain from repeated trauma is known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). An organization that is devoted to CTE in football and other sports is the

SPORTS LEGACY INSTITUTE
http://www.sportslegacy.org/


The play is being performed at EST as part of the Sloan Program (which supports plays that "explore the world of science and technology") at the 

ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATER (EST).
http://ensemblestudiotheatre.org

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE SLOAN PROGRAM AT EST:
http://ensemblestudiotheatre.org/programs/estsloan-project/




Performances of Headstrong are Wednesday through Monday at 7:00pm, matinees Saturdays at 2:00pm and Sundays at 5:00pm through May 13. Tickets are $30, $20 for student/seniors.


To order tickets:

Call 866.811.4111
Click www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/134 .

Note 5/2 

Headstrong Post-show discussion with Neuropsychologist Dr. Jill Brooks & Reuters Health Editor Ivan Oransky: Wednesday 5/2


WARNING!
SPOILER ALERT!
THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

HEADSTRONG is a well acted, well directed, funny, serious, important play.

The play is performed in the signature style of EST, which is straightforward, intelligent, real, and believable.  The simple bare stage of EST is well dressed to convey a believable room in a believable, comfortable home.  EST does not do kitchen sink reality drama, they do dining room reality drama, and they do it very well!

HEADSTRONG is well written from moment to moment with believable, sharp, often funny dialog.  It feels, however, like it could and should be much more rich dramatically.

From the moment the play starts, there is a distraction: the 3 excellent actors sound perfect, but they do not have the physical reality -- not the bulk nor the spunk -- of a very successful pro football star, the wife of a pro football star, or a pro wrestler.

At the end of the play there are some more questions. First, nearly everything in the play seems to have been there just for the purpose of the play.  For example, a morsel dropped earlier, when dad gives his daughter a pair of shoes, is just enough off-kilter that it is too obvious there is more to the story.  And, sure enough, in the final scene, that turns out to be the reveal:  dad is beginning to suffer from memory problems just like those the wife's deceased husband suffered from.

The characters have very little life outside the needs of the play, and where there is some life it is more confusing and contradictory than enriching.  In the first scene this gentleman caller uses persuasive arguments to obtain permission to study the widow's husband's brain.  In the second scene, he says: maybe she was right to refuse. He pressured and pressured her, yet he doesn't believe it himself? He seems more like a hypocrite than a conflicted soul. In the third scene, the widow tells her dad she is moving out of her dad's place.  Then we discover she knows her father is starting to suffer dementia.  It makes her seem cruel. The play has told us nothing about her but a few facts related to her late husband and her child; and it has shown us nothing about her emotional life except that she refused permission to study her husband's brain in scene 1, and -- offstage -- gave permission in scene 2.

As the play is not long and has no intermission, it has room to grow and expand the on-stage portrayal of the life of these characters (outside the single issue that defines the play -- getting permission to study the widow's husband's brain). And it would help, I think, if the physical life of the characters on stage matched the outsize life of pro wrestlers, and pro football champions, and their families.

But even with (and to some because of) its single-minded focus on the importance of studying the brains of football players who have died because of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, this is a play that should be seen and talked about.



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