Playhouse on the Square's final production of the 2017-18 season is a world premiere.
CRIB, by Gino Dilorio, won the 2016 NewWorks@TheWorks Playwrighting Competition.
Director Jaclyn Suffel discusses the play about a college basketball star and the expectations of academia.
Kacky Walton: Jaclyn Suffel directed Victory Blues last season, which was also the winner of the NewWorks Competition. She's the first person to ever direct CRIB, another world premiere.
Jaclyn Suffel: That is the beauty of being in the NewWorks competition. As a director of a reading, if your reading gets selected, you get to take it to full production. I have been very lucky to have that happen twice.
Walton: Tell me a little bit about the playwright competition.
Suffel: The NewWorks competition is an opportunity for playwrights who are hoping to get their new work produced, to submit to a panel of judges to have it be read. That set of judges picks six out of hundreds to have a public reading. At that point, the scripts are handed over to directors who pick readers, who help bring the script alive in a reading. If they win, through an audience vote, then they will be taken to production the following year.
Walton: And, they get a little cash prize of that too.
Suffel: They do.
Walton: Let's talk about the show. It's an examination of a basketball scandal.
Suffel: The title CRIB – CRIB is slang for plagiarism or a large-scale cheating operation. The issue that we are faced with is that St. Matthews, which is a fictional large D1 prestigious private school. They have an All-Star basketball player, Rajon Russel, and he is in a Theatre Classics class with one of the only African-American professors on campus. The professor catches him plagiarizing. She confronts him on it and his coach gets involved because he is a very valuable player. And, the plot ensues.
Walton: So, the outcome of this is going to be life-changing for both of these people.
Suffel: Correct. I don't wanna give too much away but there is a lot of mystery around how it turns out.
Walton: These scandals are all over the newspapers, like the Commerical Appeal. The University of North Carolina has a phantom class that students don't even have to show up to, so they will get high grades for not doing anything. It is so the players will be eligible to play with good grades.
Suffel: Yeah and I know because I had a couple of really good friends in high school that went on to be D1 athletes and they all had note takers that would go to class for them so they did not even have to be present. There were several of them who had private tutors that gave them questionable support. Then there were some professors who just knew that they could not fight the machine of the athletics program and that they just had to go along with it to save themselves, which is reflected in this show, too.
Walton: It puts an unbelievable burden on the professors and they should not have to face something this massive. They can't solve every societal pressure that is out there but they are faced with "what am I going to give them? An F? Or, do I just want to bump it up to a C+ to make everybody happy.
Suffel: That is the exact conflict that the professor, Tracy, faces. She is fighting for tenure and she is also one of the only women of color working at this institution. So, she has to be in every promo video and photo shoot to show that they are a diverse campus. In addition, she also has this issue where she has uncovered something problematic in the work of a star player.
Walton: I got tickled by the coach's name.
Suffel: Yeah, Coach Pari. That will resonate very well in Memphis because we use to have someone that was around these parts who is a very similar figure.
Walton: Tell me about Gino Dilorio, the playwright. Did you talk to him about this?
Suffel: Yes. Gino is actually working at Clark College. He is a very big basketball fan and when we talked about it I asked,"is this who I think it is?" He was like "well, it's certainly a combination of people but yes."
Walton: Kim Sanders has a role in the play. What does she play?
Suffel: Kim is playing Lisa, the administrative assistant to the professor, Tracy. She helps the professor navigate this very privileged, very white space. She has been working at the college for a long time and knows the ins and outs. She acts as an advisor and is a comical character in the show.
Walton: Tell me about the basketball player in the show.
Suffel: One of the things is that the character has a mental illness. We had to do some studying on ticks and on what it is to be bipolar and what it is like to have anxiety because the character really struggles with those things as well.
It's an important thing to examine because we don't really talk about mental illness in young black males. Especially in the context of a high-pressure situation, like being a D1 athlete.
Walton: Tell me a little bit about the conversations, you have had with Gino.
Suffel: He came to visit us during our early rehearsals and we talked about how this play came about. It is really pulled from his real life. He witnessed something very similar happen at an institution he worked at. The grading scandal is not as accurate to what he was dealing with but certainly the pressure of being one of the only professors of color on a predominately white campus and struggling for tenure and navigating those political spaces. He was fascinated with the concept of a grading scandal and the machine NCAA athletes and what it does to athletes because he had seen it firsthand.
The coach in the show says that just one game in the NCAA tournament, not the regular season, is worth 250k for the institution. That pays for everybody. He goes through who it pays for and how. But, these programs, particularly in a down economy when we are having to charge more and more for tuition to just stay afloat, these are the programs that drive the intuition. We have gotten stuck in an ethical conundrum around do we see these children as learning students and this is just a mechanism to get them awarded some important funds to get them through school, so they can get a great education? Or, are they a source of money and they are basically the engine that drives a lot of what a college needs. And, do they become collateral damage as a product of that?"
I think the debate in the play is, does it matter how you play the game? Or, does it matter that you win?
Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through July 29. Pay what you can performance is July 19.
Tickets are on sale now. You can purchase your CRIB tickets by going to playhouseonthesquare.org or by calling: (901) 726- 4656.