Like any city, Sudbury has changed over the years and some people from past generations may still see the ghosts of Sudbury’s past — something Sudbury Theatre Centre's playwright in residence, Matthew Heiti, said he felt during the making of his play “Mucking in the Drift”.
About two years ago, Heiti applied for a grant to allow him to start researching and developing a first draft for a play. His research included looking into Sudbury’s past and searching for these ghosts of another time. He decided to concentrate his efforts on the ghosts of Sudbury’s baseball past in particular.
“I’ve always had a fascination with baseball. One of the first plays I wrote was a baseball play and now the most recent play I’ve written is a baseball play,” he said. “I think it’s because whether you enjoy or hate baseball, there’s that feeling that it’s a long and boring game, but I think that’s where the magic is.”
He said the whole idea of having that down-time between play on the field is what leads people to create a kind of culture and mythology around past players and games.
“They are almost always larger than life and kind of mythic. There aren’t many sports that leave you that space and I think we’ve forgotten how to fill in that space except for with these things,” he said motioning to his phone.
Heiti said it was an amazing experience meeting ex-baseball players and families of ex-baseball players to learn about the past.
“It was probably one of the most beautiful processes I’ve had. We had put out a call if anybody wanted to share stories or memorabilia from this era ... I think I had about a dozen different families (respond),” he said. “I tried to work a lot of that material into the script in a very respectable way.”
He said one of the most memorable stories he heard was the perfect kind of material he wanted for his play.
“I’m interested in extremes, so anything that’s actually historic I want to see it taken so far out of reality that it’s barely believable.
“For example, this one guy told me a story about how his dad’s baseball glove had a hole in it and they tried patching it and it didn’t work, they tried stuffing it and it didn’t work, so every day before the game he would bike to the butchers and buy a little piece of roast beef. Then he would bike to the baseball park and give it to his dad to pack his glove with this piece of meat. The whole dugout would reek every night because this blood would leak over time. He told me he found it in the basement 30 years later and he could still smell it through the box.”
Later on, Heiti would acquire another grant for a workshop process, which meant getting into a room with another actor, a director, a dramaturge (an editor and adviser for playwrights) and an actor to work the play over the course of a week.
“I actually approached David (Savoy) in the theatre and I said ‘I would like to hire you to direct this workshop,’” Heiti said. “At the time, it wasn’t even a play we thought about staging at the STC, it was just a play under development. I think he just connected to something in the script and when it came to talking about this season, he said ‘I think I would like to stage it’ and I said ‘that’s amazing, but only if I can finish the script.’”
“You hear these people talk about these places with love and grief like family members that have passed on,” he said. “This one guy talked so passionately about the Nickel Range Hotel and it became kind of a linchpin for this piece. I felt the ghosts about the places while talking to these people about them. You have to move forward, but you need to keep a foot in the past to know where you’re going to go next.”
This will be the world premiere of the play “Mucking in the Drift,” a Sudbury story about Bert Pilgrim, drifting through time in his life searching for a moment between the young baseball star he once was and the old man confined to a wheelchair in an old age home. “Mucking in the Drift” is a dark Vaudevillian comedy about a man searching for relevance in the chaos of a changing city.
It hits the stage Oct. 31-Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 8 p.m. on Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $20.76 to $36.76 with a pay-what-you-can on Nov. 3.