“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
“As You Like It” (Act II, Scene VII)
Whenever I look through the news releases sent to me by the city’s professional playhouses that announce their roster of new season productions, the former actor in me gets the itch to perform in one of them.
That feeling always fades, like a phantom ache, where a surgically removed limb used to be, when I remember the name Asher Kaufman pays the bills better when in a byline of a Cleveland Jewish Chronicle theater review than in the show’s playbill. But this time, the itch was agitated by Mark, the newspaper’s assistant managing editor.
“What if you wrote a series of articles about what takes place while in a production?” he suggested during one of our infrequent and always unproductive meetings about ways to drive up the paper’s readership. This one took place over a light snack at Corky & Lenny’s, where Mark decided to forego the snack and have the Reuben and fries. “You know,” he said loudly, in competition with the lunchtime din of the deli, “do a Plimpton.”
George Plimpton was an American journalist who in 1963 attended the preseason training camp of the Detroit Lions of the National Football League so he could write about it. He was granted permission to run five plays in an intrasquad scrimmage under the pretense of being a backup quarterback. It wasn’t much of a pretense. The lanky, Harvard educated 36-year-old lived up to his designated uniform number “0” by losing yardage on each of the snaps he was allowed to take on the field.
The first play was called “3 left 26 near 0 pinch” which was a basic running play. Upon taking the snap, Plimpton promptly bumped into his own offensive guard before being able to give the ball to the running back and fumbled the football for a 5-yard loss.
The second play was a pass that ended prematurely when Plimpton took one step back after the ball was snapped and fell down on his own volition, succumbing to the pressure of the moment, gravity and the demons in his head.
During the third play, Plimpton managed to take several steps back but was met by a defensive lineman who beat the fellow assigned to block him. Rather than pancake Plimpton, the 300-pound Roger “Rhinofoot” Brown yanked the football right from the quarterback’s soft, shaking, ink-stained fingers and lumbered to the end zone for an easy touchdown. And so on.
Yeah, “do a Plimpton” sounded like a grand idea.
But then Mark reminded me that Plimpton’s little excursion into participatory journalism resulted in a series of popular articles in Sports Illustrated, the bestselling book, “Paper Lion,” and a successful movie with Alan Alda playing Plimpton.
I had stopped listening by then because all I heard was “3 left 26 near 0 pinch” and the sound of stampeding rhinos. Now, I can’t stop wondering who would play me in the movie.