Photo provided
In Westfield Playhouse’s “Going… Going … Gone,” TV interviewer Shana (Ka'Lena Cuevas, from left), newspaper reporter Dennis (Brian Coon), internet writer Big Jim (Bill Buchanan, back), and baseball columnist Mason (Byron Holmes) come together in a stadium press box for a game that changes all their lives.. The baseball-themed play opens Friday with a public Q&A to follow featuring playwright Ken Levine, a writer for “Cheers,” “M*A*S*H” and other celebrated sitcoms.
Photo provided In Westfield Playhouse’s “Going… Going … Gone,” TV interviewer Shana (Ka'Lena Cuevas, from left), newspaper reporter Dennis (Brian Coon), internet writer Big Jim (Bill Buchanan, back), and baseball columnist Mason (Byron Holmes) come together in a stadium press box for a game that changes all their lives.. The baseball-themed play opens Friday with a public Q&A to follow featuring playwright Ken Levine, a writer for “Cheers,” “M*A*S*H” and other celebrated sitcoms.

A new director to Westfield Playhouse is not only bringing the Indiana premiere of a baseball-themed play to the small Eagletown church-turned-theater, he’s bringing the comedy’s playwright to town on opening night.

First-time director Steven Marsh of Carmel has done everything he can to make the ballpark come alive for the audience, while ensuring the focus remains on the four characters in the play, “Going … Going … Gone,” which opens Friday and continues weekends through April 28 at the Playhouse.

The comedy is written by Emmy-award-winning writer/director/playwright/major league baseball announcer Ken Levine, who wrote scripts for the TV sitcoms, “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers” and “Wings.”

Levine, who offered encouragement to Marsh and his cast, will be in the audience on Friday night, not only watching the performance but also participating in a Q&A right after the show.

Making the ballpark come alive meant figuring out how to differentiate an inside-the-park home run versus a foul ball, using only sound.
“Ken was invaluable with his assistance as far as the sound goes,” Marsh said.

Levine provided background noise from a real baseball stadium, the base announcer voice-overs from veteran voice actor Howard Hoffman and “in-game” songs performed by Emmy-award-winning musician Darlene Koldenhoven. “I still needed to mix it all together, but he provided most of the base elements,” Marsh said. 

At the risk of immodesty, the director is “happy” with the sound design. There are more than 60 unique sound cues, some of which come within seconds of others. 

Marsh has arranged the trip for Levine, who lives in Westwood, Calif. It won’t be Levine’s first visit; he lived in Indianapolis for three months when he was in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison in the Defense Information Training School. And when Levine called minor league baseball from 1988-90, his teams would visit Indianapolis to play the Indians at the old Bush Stadium, where he would become friends with Indians’ voice Howard Kellman for more than 30 years.

“Although baseball fans will almost certainly find it enjoyable, knowledge of that sport isn't a requirement, any more than you need to understand the business side of bartending to enjoy ‘Cheers,’ or the aviation industry to watch ‘Wings,’” said Marsh, 45, Carmel.

“I first learned about the show by reading a blog (Mark Evanier's "News From Me"), where he mentioned a fun comedy he'd just seen in Los Angeles,” Marsh said. “Although I’d had extensive acting experience, I'd yet to delve into directing. However, this seemed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls I might face as a neophyte: it's a small group of actors, it only has one set, it takes place over one day, and so on.”

Marsh submitted the play to Westfield Playhouse’s play-reading committee.

“It was my pick,” he said proudly of the show, which makes not only its Indiana premiere but marks the first time that the play will have been performed outside of Los Angeles. 

“Going … Going … Gone” is a workplace comedy that revolves around four news reporters in a Los Angeles baseball press box over the course of a single baseball game that's simultaneously mundane and yet ever so eventful, Marsh said.

“I've done what I can to make the ballpark come alive for the audience, while still ensuring that the focus is on these four colleagues,” Marsh said. 
“We've put a lot of work into making sure that the audience gets a sense of the game that's happening off-screen,” he said.

Directing his first show has had some challenges. But mainly for cast, not crew. “It's a challenge for the actors, because all four of them — Brian Coon (Dennis Minishian), Bryon Holmes (Mason Young), Bill Buchanan (Big Jim Tabler) and Ka’Lena Cuevas (Shana Sanders) — are on stage for nearly the whole show. “There's very little chance for the actors to reset or think about the next scene while someone else is performing,” Marsh said. “The energy has to be sharp between all four members of the cast for the entire show.”

An even greater challenge is that “the entire cast is composed of those who have either never had a meaty role, not acted since college or not acted ever.”

Plus, “they’re saddled with a guy who’s never directed before, either,” Marsh said, speaking of himself.

Rehearsals have been a learning experience for everybody involved. “We’re all learning what we can do as we wade into the theatrical process, which is exhilarating and makes the chemistry between the cast palpable. But it’s also a bit nerve-wracking as we all are stretching just outside our comfort zones.”

“It’s a true ensemble piece, so there is no one ‘star.’ This is great as far as the division of labor, but it also means that I need to make sure each actor has their ‘moment in the spotlight,’ from a directorial standpoint.”

But still, Marsh is impressed by his cast. 

He said, “The energy and chemistry among the cast is exemplary, which is so important in a comedy. I fully believe each of these four characters — as wacky and eccentric as some of them are — are fully fleshed human beings the actors have brought to life,” he said. “I'm especially impressed with how diverse the cast is, in terms of backgrounds and experiences. There's so much new blood and energy.”

The play is “super modern.” For example, one of the earliest scenes is about a “moment of silence” for a deceased ball player. “And it's 22 seconds of ‘silence’… but as the ensemble squirms and is drawn to their cell phones or laptops, you realize how long 22 seconds is in the modern breakneck world.”

Marsh loves how the play talks about the changing landscape of media. “A recurring theme is the tension between traditional print media — which faces constant downsizing and evolution — and websites and the Internet, which come with their own problems,” said Marsh, who edited a digital-only magazine for 18 years, and has “seen firsthand how radically the world has changed around me in just this time.”

While there is only one set, it’s “deceptively elaborate,” Marsh said, “in that we've done what we can to try to re-create a press box, including its unique two-tier structure that has those in the back ‘hovering’ over the folks in front.”

The show is set current day, complete with references to Pinterest, auto-correct, and the Disney movie, “Frozen.” 

But unlike a Disney movie, the play contains adult language.

“The show is a realistic — if exaggerated — look at sports media. So the colorful language used by the reporters is — as I understand it — true to Ken Levine's experience as a baseball broadcaster. That language also becomes a fairly integral part of one plot point and running joke,” Marsh said.

“The show contains some adult situations, mostly in terms of sitcom-level discussions of sex and the Internet. In other words, the language is much harsher than you'd find on a broadcast sitcom, but the underlying situations are all pretty similar to what you'd see at a 9- or 10-o'clock comedy on TV,” he said.

“For what it's worth, I'd advise caution for folks who are sensitive to crude language. On the other hand, I won't have any problem with letting my 12-year-old see it (I remember what my public-middle-school life was like), although I'll definitely be accompanying it with a reminder discussion about how the language here is definitely for adults, and how certain actions are not admirable or something to emulate.”

Marsh was born in Detroit and grew up in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area. His earliest theater experience, beyond required pre-teen pageants, was in a high school class that he took on a lark. “I was never on stage officially, but I performed scenes in class… most memorably as a priest interviewing Joan of Arc,” he said.

In college, at Florida State University, Marsh spent most of his free time involved with role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons, where he'd be called upon to create characters at a moment's notice, honing his improvisational and character-building skills. 

"OK; you want to talk to the Elven bartender?” he asked, adopting a higher-register voice, and going into improv mode. “Good day to you, noble travelers. You look worse for the wear; is trouble afoot in these fair lands?” 

He earned a creative writing degree in 1996 from FSU, where he also completed a couple of courses on writing scripts for plays and movies. He met his wife, Nikki Vrtis, in 2004, at a convention in New Jersey when they were both living in other states. They were married in 2005 and, 13 months later, their only child, Sam, was born, and they soon moved to Indiana to be closer to her parents in Michigan.

His earliest “real” theatrical experience was in 2003 as Joel Cairo in “The Maltese Falcon,” in the Monticello Opera House in northern Florida. “I'd attended my first play in the area a month or two before, and I remember seeing the actors and thinking, ‘I can do that.’ So I auditioned, and I've done over a dozen shows since then.”

Marsh’s first appearance at Westfield Playhouse was the portrayal of Sydney Lipton in “God’s Favorite,” by Neil Simon in October 2014. “I kind of fell in love with the Playhouse after that show; it's so intimate, and I can really feel the love for theater itself with everyone involved.”

Other favorite roles he’s played were Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet” in 2004 and Ticky in “The Nerd” in 2016. The latter play is where he portrayed a father for his real-life son, Sam Vrtismarsh. (A side note: I met Steven Marsh and his son, Sam, in 2017, when Steven played the role of storekeeper Ike Godsey, and Sam played Ben Walton in “The Homecoming: Waltons’ Christmas Story,” at Westfield Playhouse, where my daughter played the role of Erin Walton.)

Marsh’s favorite experience was a holiday production in 2018, when he portrayed the stage father of his son in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” for Carmel Community Players, and where his wife also acted for her first time since her own elementary-school play when she portrayed the witch in “Hansel & Gretel,” in kindergarten.

Marsh said it will be a treat for patrons to see Levine on opening night.

Besides “Going … Going … Gone,” Levine’s full-length plays include “A or B?,” “Our Time,” “Upfronts and Personal,” “America’s Sexiest Couple’ and “Guilty Pleasures,” which have been performed in New York, Los Angeles, and throughout the nation. His many short plays have been produced around the world and have won numerous festivals and competitions. 

Levine has written more than 200 episodes of television, for such shows as “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “The Simpsons” and “Wings.”  He has directed more than 60 TV episodes and has been the play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres and hosted Dodger Talk for eight seasons.

Marsh said, “If you want to see a super-recent comedy from an award-winning writer, this is almost certainly your best chance anytime soon.”
He likes the play for its deep themes, which resonate for him. “What does it mean to be remembered, to have a legacy? Why are we here? What does it mean to chase your dreams, or hang on to your own safety and comfort?” he said are among the themes, as he thinks back at the male mentors in his life.

The play is dedicated to Marsh’s father, Dan, and stepfather, Jim, who both enjoyed baseball. Marsh said, “Although they may be gone, their legacy is not forgotten.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com