Just in time for the opening of baseball season, there’s a new play at the San Jose Repertory Theatre about what it means to be a fan of the game. “Game On,” opening Wednesday, April 2, also explores Silicon Valley’s startup culture at a time when the subject is sizzling-hot on television.
“Game On” is by Dan Hoyle, the critically acclaimed playwright and performer of three solo shows, and Tony Taccone, the artistic director at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where Hoyle’s father — actor and clown Geoff Hoyle — has often worked.
The younger Hoyle approached Taccone about 18 months ago with the idea for a new play about something serious.
“Neither of us really wanted to do that,” Hoyle said.
Which sounds disappointing, except Hoyle said the two “talked baseball the whole meeting. And the next morning Tony called me and asked, ‘Do you want to write a play about baseball?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. Sounds great.’ ”
So the two began writing a play together, one that dealt not with playing the game, but with the passion that fans feel for their teams and the role baseball plays in the emotional lives of men.
It includes some of the nastiest and funniest lines in years about baseball in general and the failings of the San Francisco Giants in particular.
“The guy weighs 240 going on 300. He’s a medicine ball running on toothpicks,” says one character, describing Pablo Sandoval.
“We’re both guys who are attracted to sports for reasons we don’t entirely respect,” Taccone said during a conversation with the co-playwrights last week at San Jose Rep.
“We’re avoiding the world. There’s a way to not talk about your feelings by totally immersing yourself in sports. I can’t tell you how many times my wife has come into the room and asked, ‘What are you watching?’ And the answer is ‘I don’t care.’ ”
The two aren’t really grunting couch potatoes, though. Taccone was just expressing the ambivalence they felt, at first, about the other subject of their play, global warming. Hoyle recalled they wanted to deal with the issue, but it just seemed too overwhelmingly depressing to confront.
Their reaction: “Let’s talk about baseball some more,” Hoyle said. “And we kind of realized that that was our in, our very human reaction. ‘Cause if you actually pay attention to what’s going on, it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning.”
So Hoyle and Taccone decided to make the play a comedy.
It features two men, Alvin and Vinnie, with a business plan that could save the world from global warming and make them rich, if only they can get a meeting with a venture capitalist and land the startup funding they need. They’re looking for money at a fundraiser held at a private home in the wealthy Peninsula town of Los Altos.
“If you were going to host a very high-end party for a foundation, that’s one of the places you’d want to do it,” said Rick Lombardo, director of the show and the producing artistic director for San Jose Rep.
Lombardo is directing the production, and he helped shape the play during the writing process. He said Silicon Valley audiences will see some familiar characters on stage, beset by some familiar foibles.
“The very interesting hypocrisy of the folks who care a great deal about the world,” Lombardo said, “and are going to give a lot of money for green startups, but who own their own private planes and they put more hydrocarbons into the atmosphere doing that than anything else they do in their lives. But they own a Tesla.”
The play opens at a time when the games that entrepreneurs play are a hot entertainment topic. HBO’s “Silicon Valley” debuts this Sunday, following films like “Jobs” and “The Social Network,” all set in that amorphous geographical area where venture capitalists are king.
“Game On” portrays these money men as not very nice people, so it may seem odd that playwrights Hoyle and Taccone had lots of help from a venture capitalist.
“Tony and Dan came to me when they were incubating the idea,” said Roger Strauch, who speaks fluent startup. He’s chairman of The Roda Group, a venture capital firm in Berkeley.
He’s also a big supporter of Berkeley Rep. (The company’s main theater is named The Roda.)
Taccone said Strauch told the playwrights to not make the VC men too nice.
“Venture capitalists,” he said. “I would like to think many of us are nice people, but we have a job. Our job is to make money on our investments. If we want to be a philanthropist, that’s another thing.”
Still, Strauch and his partner, Dan Miller, are investing these days in startups working to slow the effects of climate change. And he gave the playwrights the idea for a key aspect of the play.
“I suggested that one of the consequences of global climate change is that we would need new food products.”
New food products, Strauch told me, such as insects. An idea that will likely make audiences squirm and laugh.
So, in spite of their misgivings, Hoyle and Tony Taccone have written a comedy that tackles the very serious issue of global warming.
“We wanted to make sure this is a play our mothers would be proud of, too.” Hoyle said, laughing.
“Although,” Taccone joked, “we can’t bring them because of the amount of swearing in the play.”