The championship figure skating team of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner was/is legendary. Gardner’s one-man show, Go Figure, at the NoHo Arts Center is not. This Bunbury Productions, Inc. offering is billed as “The World Premiere of a New Play by Joshua Ravetch”. The problem is it is not a play. It’s a series of stories told by Gardner about his life on and off the ice. Ravetch has not done a good job of forming the stories into a smooth flowing cohesive piece of theatre. On opening night, Gardner had to call to the off stage Ravetch “what’s my next story?” about a half dozen times. The capacity audience of friends and fans gave most of their applause to the many video clips of the fabled pair (and other championship skaters) than they did to Gardner’s on-stage performance. The clips take up at least a third if not more of the show’s less than 90 minute running time. Gardner is charming but he seemed ill at ease and uncomfortable telling his life story. He’s very honest about his discovery that his birth was the result of rape and that his teenage Catholic mother had to give him up for adoption. He discovered this information when he was 40 and it had a profound effect on him. An earlier trauma was his adoptive parents’ discovery of his homosexual relationship with another skater in the early 1980s. They put him into a “reparative therapy” program which included a trip to a Nevada brothel
There are some very dramatic incidents in Gardner’s life, including his injury just before he and Babilonia were to compete at the 1980 Winter Olympics where they were the first American team that was a sure bet to win the gold. Unfortunately Ravetch has not done his job as writer in better shaping these stories in a compelling manner and he also failed Gardner with his aimless direction. Mostly Gardner just stands center stage and talks. Luke Moyer’s bare scenic and lighting design were cold and impersonal. Opening weekend guests did consume more time. Dorothy Hamill gave a long and rambling introduction of Gardner to start the evening. Then she returned later to demonstrate a few skating moves sans skates. It was one of two gauche audience participation bits where Gardner asked the audience to stand and then had them attempt some awkward positions in their cramped confines. Babalonia joined Gardner for the finale where they basically posed for the audience whose cell phone cameras were in heavy use. Not sure what will take their place after the opening weekend. Babalonia also led one of the evening’s biggest laughs while sitting in the audience when Gardner announced from the stage that the press was always trying to link them romantically. Gardner has been skating for 50 years but he has never been on thinner ice than in this show. I am sure he has a compelling and interesting story to tell but this is not it. Ravetch, as writer and director, has left him alone in the spotlight without any thrilling skating or theatrical maneuvers to wow you with. Go Figure indeed.
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. Ends June 14. 818-508-7101 #6 or www.nohoace.com