This new play by Rickerby Hinds treats modern American athletics as an outgrowth of slavery. Four black men, with emblematic sports-names -- Hoop, Down, Stick, and Jab -- ply careers in basketball, football, baseball, and boxing, respectively, only to run into historical and modern patterns of racism. Hoop, statistics-wise, won't graduate from the college that gives him a scholarship; Down will never be a quarterback. Stick bats with one strike against him (called by an evil umpire), and Jab replays great racial struggles in boxing, from Jack Johnson's early fights through the harrowing amateur match in The Invisible Man. The play sounds like a political cartoon, and most of it is: Instead of paying attention to human detail, Hinds puts his imagination at the service of his preconceptions. This doesn't keep Vincent Heckard from giving a lively performance as Down, or Dave Stewart from filling all his boxing roles with flair, or the choral-singing pieces from raising a strong defiant noise. But it does doom George Mauro, as the slave-driving Coach, to a lame performance, and almost the whole Hoop segment to tendentious and unnatural dialogue. Hinds needs to reread his Ralph Ellison and learn how to weave a political posture into the fabric of a style without sacrificing character.
Through Feb. 25. Tickets are $12-15; call 289-2000.
Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (between Folsom and Howard), S.F.