Gabrielle L Kurlander, David Nackman, and Earl Griffin in Safe at Third.
BOTTOM LINE: A kooky existential comedy with Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Josh Gibson, and Otto Rene Castillo all literally trapped on Third Base searching for a way home.
Safe at Third (Or Josh Gibson Don't Bunt) is the latest offering from the Castillo Theatre. It is a weird yet entertaining play written by Fred Newman, a Stanford-trained philosophy professor who left academia to become a community organizer, psychotherapist and playwright. I know it sounds like a weird combination, but I think that Safe at Third could only have come from the mind of an individual with that such an eclectic background.
The premise for Safe at Third is simple enough. Albert Einstein, the great Negro League slugger Josh Gibson, Otto Rene Castillo, the martyred Guatemalan poet and revolutionary, and legendary aviator Amelia Earhart find themselves stranded at third base on a mysterious celestial baseball field with no way home. Along the way there are songs, slideshows of famous historical figures, and throwbacks to The Little Prince and The Wizard of Oz. How will theses four historical figures get home? If they discover a way to reach this goal, is there even a home to return to? And if so, do they really want to go back? I know that seems like a lot of questions, but that really is what this play is about: asking questions and knowing the true limits of our capabilities.
You know that you are in for a trip when you walk into the Castillo theatre and you are met with a painted ceiling and wall as if you are entering a working planetarium that happens to have an exaggerated baseball field and working bar inside. The evening starts with a concert from the four historical figures and then they are all magically sucked into the proverbial void where they are stuck at third base with no way home.
There are the inevitable comparisons to Beckett's existentialism, but there is slightly more humor and a lot less despair in Safe at Third. I have to admit that I even learned a little while watching this inventive piece of theatre. I had no knowledge of Josh Gibson or Otto Rene Castillo (except that Castillo happened to be the namesake of the theatre in which the play was being performed).
The show moves at a fairly brisk pace and with a running time of just over one hour, the time flies by. Is this play for everyone? Probably not. If you like avant guard theatre with an existential edge and a dash of childhood wonder, then Safe at Third (Or Josh Gibson Don't Bunt) might just be the show for you. That being said, I think that everyone will take something very different from this piece. It is possible, I guess, to watch this show and simply be entertained at the ridiculousness of the concept and still have an enjoyable night at the theatre. I think, however, that it is more likely you will, at least for a moment, be forced to think about your existence in this universe, what you are doing to leave your mark on the world, and how to get "home" when we are lost and alone on this wild ride we call life. If you think that last sentence sounded a little out there, then you might want to skip this offering. If you are intrigued by zany psychological theatre with a great big heart then slide into the Castillo for Safe at Third (Or Josh Gibson Don't Bunt).
(Safe at Third (or Josh Gibson Don't Bunt) plays at the Castllio Theatre, 543 West 42th Street. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2pm through November 22nd. The show runs just over one hour with no intermission. Tickets are $35. TDF accepted and group rates are available. For tickets call 212-941-1234 or visit www.castillo.org.)