Book Review – Sports Play by Elfride Jelinek

(American) Football season kicked off this past weekend here in the United States. I thought it a propitious time to review Elfride Jelinek’s Sports Play. The tone of this work shows that Ms. Jelinek is not sharing my passion for athletics this autumn. While reading this play the word esoteric came to mind various times. The playwright chose a rather unusual way to express her anti-sports world view.

I didn’t care for the paucity of interaction between characters in this drama. The structure of this work entailed a character presenting a long, drawn out speech; almost bordering on a soliloquy. The playwright even explained as much in an interview included in the text.

In spite of the fact my plays often look like prose, as they consist of long blocks of monologues, they are actually not prose. My plays are texts written to be spoken, while prose narrates. Plays are designed for collective reception, prose for individual reception. So you can’t simply say my plays are a kind of prose since they don’t narrate anything. They talk. They speak. Although recently I’ve noticed that the differences are blurring. My prose is increasingly becoming “speaking”. (Location 239)

I failed to get a sense of “speaking” in many of the long “monologues”. Because of that, I didn’t witness much interaction between the characters. That made the reading very difficult, especially since, as the playwright even acknowledged, it didn’t have a plot. While I thought the text challenging to get through, I did feel relieved I didn’t have to memorize and present it to an audience.

I thought the stage direction very creative. The playwright instructed the leader of the chorus to wear an earpiece in order to receive sports scores during the production. She directed him to interrupt the play and update the audience as scores came in. I liked this because it added to the sense of sports being an all-encompassing presence in our lives. While morbid, I thought having either a still photo or moving clips of Arnold Schwarzenegger while ANDI lamented his life a good way to add a visual element to his lugubrious musings.

I liked the creative uses of language in the English translation. Alliteration such as “fallen fighters” (Location 668) and expressions such as, “Where were your valuable values produced?” made some of the monologues a bit easier to ingest. Lines like, “Ambition is man’s strongest drive,” (Location 2490) knocked it out of the park.

I mentioned before about my inability to connect with the characters due to the monologues and paucity of interaction. The lack of names for some of the characters prevented me from doing so, as well. One person was named “Other”. Another character was referred to as “First”. Granted, the playwright included these identifiers for the benefit of the director. No one referred to these characters by those names during the story, but still.

Sports Play is not for everybody, not even for those who share the author’s “anti-sports” attitude. I’d describe as a philosophical treatise on the nature of sport and the role it plays in society as opposed to a dramatic production. It’s a shame, because this is a great theme that skilled authors—of which Ms. Jelinek certainly is–can do a lot with and develop into something memorable. This work wasn’t even “in the ballpark” on that one. “Nothing but sport and sport and sport on our minds,”Elfi Electra said. (Location 591) I wish this playwright had something else on hers when she wrote this piece.

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