Women may find it difficult to appreciate a sport that forms a basic part of "Players," the Australian play by David Williams about club politics on a rugby team, now at the Eisenhower Theater.
This sport, the comic and recreational aspects of which are essential to the play, is neither rugby nor politics. It is beating up women.
The play concerns the attempts of a manipulating sports administrator and a former athlete to oust from the club its president and its coach.The way they get rid of the president is to leak the press for the fact that he beat up a stripper who had teased him on stage during a benefit dinner and resisted his advances backstage. She later produced medical reports showing that she had suffered extensive bruises, but, as the president points out, she probably had friends beat her up to strengthen the case, and anyway, she was "a trollop."
Now, the coach is outraged at this behavior. He is outraged that a rugby club president could be forced out on such a trival issue - especially, as he points out, since the old jock (an old character called Jock, played by Fred Gwynne) is known to blacken his wife's eye regularly. This the audience already knows, because the comic highlight of the show is his reminiscing about the night in 1939 that he returned home after having been beaten by an opponent on the playing field, and "Rosemary said 'I think you met your match' - and I thumped her one!"
The coach, apparently the moral spokesman of the play, equates dumping the president on the stripper-beating charge with the way he has been dumped - his opponents' refusing to renew his contract because they can hire a better coach.
Of course, these mentions of women are a minor, although significant, part of what is mostly merely shop talk about the business of running sport - pure gossip that lacks the ordiniary interest of celebrity gossip because it is about fictional characters. The women-beating is an incidental demonstration of the anti-humanism of these people who care nothing about one another, the team or, in most cases, the sport itself.
Perhaps in anticipation of such objections, the play has a young athlete in it who scandalizes his elders by calling a sport - rugby, in this case, not wife-beating - "macho." He also takes drugs on the field, ignoring the ball to watch an hallucinatory seagull soar by. And anyway, as others are quick to point out, he got ath "macho" word from his girl friend.
However, it is a word, with all its most unpleasant connotations, that describes not rugby but the clubhouse word pictured here, in which only strength is admired, and the question is only whether the old right cross was nobler than the new double-cross.
Macho is also the style of the American production, in which nearly everything is shouted or, in the case of the Easter Island faced Fred Gwynne, hooted; and there is a great deal of door slamming.