The Play About the Coach gets to the heart of basketball

Last year, Thomas Ward made a splash with International Falls, a show he wrote and starred in about a standup comedian at the end of the world. Directed by the Jungle's Bain Boehlke, the show was an intriguing look at the comedic process.

Ward is back at the Bryant-Lake Bowl this month with The Play About the Coach. This time, he's stepping into a piece written by playwright Paden Fallis. Ward is the first actor apart from Fallis to take on the one-man show about a college basketball coach facing the toughest three minutes of his life. Keeping it in the family, Ward is directed by his wife, Sherry Jo.

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What made you want to do the show?

Thomas Ward: The writing is top-notch. It manages that difficult feat of being very realistic and in the moment while also revealing the inner struggles of the character. It's a massive challenge for me as an actor, and it's been awhile since I've really been put through my paces. I've been playing a lot of small roles lately as a character actor, and I need to scare myself a little. And believe me, I'm terrified. I also appreciate that it's not an autobiographical one-man show, as so many of those are. It's a play that any actor with enough nerve can attempt. 

What makes the show challenging?

TW: The challenging thing about the role is not only that you're on your own, but that you're constantly reacting to action that isn't really happening, that you have to imagine. So, you have this invisible basketball game happening that is as unpredictable as a real game, and you must respond in the moment while staying clear on what's next in the story.

What is your own relationship to basketball? Are you a big fan or not? 

TW: I love basketball. I played a lot as a child. I'm fascinated by the strategy and the competition of it. And one thing I love in general about sports is that no matter how much you prepare, you can never truly know what's going to happen. I think theater should feel more like that sometimes.

What kind of work has it taken to bring this piece to life?

TW: Paden has worked with an impressive lineup of directors and designers through each step of the process. I'm very lucky, because I benefit from the work of a lot of talented people. The sound design is intricate, and every detail of the script has been painstakingly analyzed from beginning to end.

How do you think your interpretation differs from the playwrights?

TW: I saw Paden perform it in a rehearsal hall in New York leading up to a performance. Seeing it is what made me want to do it. I don't know that my interpretation will be all that different from a literary or psychological point of view, but I'm a very different guy than Paden is: different physicality, different energy, different timing, humor. Feeling the play adapt to my presence, while also challenging my instincts to meet the stakes of the piece, has been exciting. A good way to predict the difference between mine and Paden's performance would be to compare different coaches in the college game. It might be like the difference between Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins. I'm a bigger dude who moves differently and intimidates differently.  

What will audiences get out of it?

TW: The basketball fan is going to dig it because it really is spot on in its treatment of the game. The theater fan is going to dig it because it's a very human story about a person fighting for something he desperately needs against overwhelming odds. He wants to win. Winning is everything. If that isn't something every American struggles with, I don't know what is. And all the while we get a glimpse of the things in life this Coach is sacrificing or neglecting for that one goal. Who can't relate to that?


The Play About the Coach
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, March 14-29
Bryant-Lake Bowl

810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis

For tickets and more information, call 612-825-8949 or visit online.