There’s a scene in the 1993 film “Jurassic Park” where the big game hunter character believes he’s got the jump on a nasty velociraptor. Moments later, he realizes that he’s made a significant, but startling scientific discovery: velociraptors hunt in packs. Before he becomes an on-the-run snack, he says: “Clever girl.”
Gabrielle Sinclair, playwright from North Carolina is, too, a clever girl. She embraces the spirit of being shrewd and quick-witted, say, enjoying a David Letterman story or prank. Or plays by the great Sam Shepard, the celebrated playwright who died recently. Ingenuity, not smart-alecky.
She’s the author of “The Resolute,” one of three plays that will begin a nine-day run as part of the third annual Wyoming Theater Festival. It opens Sept. 7 at the WYO Theater in downtown Sheridan.
“The Resolute” is the story of young women in the first class of Vassar College. That class numbered 353 women from all over the country. They were encouraged by a professor to “think excessively.” Vassar was founded in 1861 and five years later, they fielded a baseball team, more than a century before Tom Hanks and Geena Davis lit up the screen in “League of Their Own.” Imagine hitting a cutoff man in a hoop skirt, or turning a 6-4-3 double-play in a corset. A game of pepper in petticoats. Whimsy, of course. Yet baseball has all kinds of persnickety connections. The first teams from 1866 were called the Laurels and Abenakis. Ten years later at Vassar, the Resolutes became the moniker. (Hey, it’s better than the Devil Rays.)
As Casey Stengel often noted, “you could look it up.”
“Clever girls, working together,” says Ms. Sinclair, “are unstoppable.” We sat down for an interview at Java Moon Monday morning. She was taking a break from the rehearsals that are ongoing at the Whitney Center for the Arts at Sheridan College. Professional actors, directors, playwrights and production personnel make Sheridan their destination for four weeks every year at the WyoTF. This year it was moved into September after SC’s fall semester began in order to involve more Sheridan College theater students. Clever move.
“But there’s also a kind of curse of the clever girl. Wickedly smart, but easily bored and it can be hard to see your path and purpose,” Ms. Sinclair added. “So that’s kind of a goal for these characters. To play, learn and understand baseball gives them this opportunity to focus and let go of what might be holding them back.”
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, 35 years ago, Ms. Sinclair has lived in several places in the U.S. and abroad. Yet she considers herself a southerner, citing the “density” of the place, the culture, the history, the food. She knows first-hand about the difference between mustard-based and vinegar-based Carolina (pork) barbecue. Knows a southern lunch could be a Moon Pie and an RC Cola. That one brews sweet tea with sugar, not adding it later in a glass. She understands the argument of whether a pineapple and cheese casserole is a side dish or a dessert. (I’ll go with side dish. There’s only one dessert, and it’s spelled p-i-e. And it’s served in wedges.) We also spoke of a shared appreciation of Letterman, Shepard and, well, cleverness.
So how does one find a story about a baseball team at Vassar in 1866?
“If you want to find women being amazing in history, you just have to look,” she says. “Women have been playing baseball in America for over 150 years. My focus was finding an origin story. Baseball is also fantastically democratic and welcoming. It seemed to be the ideal sport then when the country was so fractured and needed to be sewn back together. Baseball is magic that way.” She began work on “The Resolute” last summer while attending the WyoTF, writing a 40-page treatment. This past year, she’s been developing the six women characters. It’s been read twice in theater workshops in her home of Greensboro, North Carolina, and in Brooklyn, New York.
Since this is her encore trip to Sheridan, Ms. Sinclair is beginning to feel increasingly comfortable here. Festival professionals rehearse, perform and get feedback in hopes their efforts will find a greater audience in theaters throughout the U.S. “The Resolute” has been commissioned by Infinite Variety Productions of New York City.
“Sheridan is so beautiful,” she notes. “It’s fun to come back. I’m starting to get my favorite places to go. The city has been so welcoming to us.” What’s different this year is that she brought her 2-year-old son, Jonah. Her husband, Ben Compton, is a doctoral candidate in English literature at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. In addition to being a playwright, is also founded and is co-artistic director of a North Carolina theater company, The Storyhound Theatrical Detective Agecy. She also cited the hospitality of DannyLee Hodnett, the WyoTF director and her hosts, Paul DelRossi and Marie Lowe.
The play “The Resolute,” she says, “is a chance to step back and tell a story. It’s not a reenactment, but an opportunity to create myth. There’s mystery with this team. They were confident enough to barnstorm, travel and play men’s baseball teams.”