The Last Match

Sports Take The Stage



The Last Match brings the passion and pace of professional sports to the stage in what may seem like an unlikely marriage between the world of athletics and the world of theatre. But this pairing isn’t quite as uncommon as it might appear. Sports have been a source of inspiration for playwrights for decades -- from Clifford Odets’s 1937 boxing drama Golden Boy to George Abbott, Douglass Wallop, Richard Adler, and Jerry Ross’s 1955 baseball musical Damn Yankees to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s 2000 football musical The Beautiful Game. Bringing a sporting event to the stage, however, is not quite the same as the more ubiquitous trend of bringing it to the screen -- and “sports plays” often take a much different shape than do “sports films.” The fact that sports and theatre are both live entertainment often makes the combination of the two events a more complicated and nuanced endeavor than it may seem.

Many a theatre practitioner has bemoaned the theatre’s inability to mimic the heightened spontaneity of sports. For all the similarities between theatre events and sporting events , sports do generally have the theatre beat in terms of the sheer unpredictability of outcome. What’s the benefit, then, in putting sports onstage in a “scripted” environment? Much recent commentary on “sports theatre” has criticized shows for attempting to capture the moment-to-moment excitement of actual gameplay and falling short. Indeed, it’s difficult to fake the excitement of a sporting event authentically when the final outcome is predetermined. Plays and musicals about sports, then, tend to have their best moments when they resist the temptation to stage the actual games in full and instead do what theatre does best: focus on the people.

The mechanics of what makes a good “sports play” aside, sports are certainly getting their share of time in the spotlight in today’s theatrical landscape. The Last Match is only one of several major recent productions that have brought the drama of sports onstage and explored the nature of competition and the often invisible and controversial intricacies of the athletics industry. Below are a few notable examples of recent plays that join The Last Match in the genre of “sports theatre.”

Zoë Winters, Wilson Bethel, Alex Mickiewicz and Natalia Payne in The Last Match. Photo by Joan Marcus.


The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe

A Finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves dramatizes the dynamics of a teenage girls’ soccer team as their competing desires for success, social status, and validation boil to the surface over the course of a pre-game warmup. Fueled by all the energy and competition of an actual soccer game, the team’s frenetic conversation escalates from casual schoolyard gossip to a place of very real danger.


Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker

Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal brings all the adrenaline of a football game to the stage. Featuring full football uniforms, a live drumline, a working scoreboard, and precise choreography that transforms the chaos of a play on the field into an elaborate dance, Colossal follows a gay college football player who suffers irreparable damage to his spinal cord during a game. Through the eyes of a gay man in a culture of hypermasculinity, Colossal explores the more drastic prices we pay in the name of career.


X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) by KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein

KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein’s X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) investigates stories of degenerative brain diseases in former professional football players. Through the real-life stories of former players and their friends and families, many of whom formed the cast of the production at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, X’s and O’s ruminates on the often invisible costs of America’s most popular form of entertainment.

The Last Match opens at the Laura Pels Theater on October 24, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website here.

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From the Artistic Director: The Last Match


This New York premiere marks Roundabout’s first collaboration with Anna, though I have long admired her body of work. From her play Photograph 51, which played on the West End in 2015 and follows the story of renowned physicist Rosalind Franklin’s fight for scientific recognition, to A Delicate Ship, which ran at The Playwrights Realm in 2015 and explores the existential underpinnings of young love and lust, Anna’s work proves her willingness to confront all the complexities and contradictions within her characters. There are no easy answers in her plays; she faces the beauty and ugliness of her stories head-on, relentlessly mining the scenarios she renders for their deepest layers. Her plays investigate new perspectives in a way that always surprises and thrills me, and, like all great theatre, her work never fails to enrich and complicate my familiarity with subjects I thought I already understood.

And The Last Match is no exception. Set during the semifinals of the US Open, Anna’s electric play follows two professional tennis players who have put everything on the line for their game. Inspired by the real-life career paths of some of the sport’s biggest icons, The Last Match delves into the pressures and stresses placed on players who, due to the short-lived nature of a profession that demands retirement at an early age, must race against time to achieve their dreams. For sure, in every game there is a great deal of money, reputation, and glory at stake, but Anna’s play hones in more specifically on what her characters, after sacrificing so much in the name of perfecting their craft, owe to their families and to themselves. With so much riding on every serve and every return, tennis -- one of the most solitary of sports -- can become an internal maelstrom of doubt, euphoria, and nostalgia. By tracing the inner tribulations of her characters, Anna meticulously unpacks how a tennis match can spiral into an all-out war.

By expertly unpacking the truth and humanity from within this fictional tennis match, Anna exposes so much about the nature of ambition and competition regardless of profession or field. American workaday culture is infamous for its glorification of stress, workaholism, and burnout; it’s not only athletes who risk the health of their family, their friendships, and themselves in the name of success. Anna’s play deftly explores what happens when the pressures of an incredibly driven lifestyle clash with the demands of familial relationships and personal care. With a play that is both characteristically nuanced and propulsively acrobatic, Anna asks us all to examine the reality behind our cultural obsession with competition, recognition, and victory.

I am thrilled for you to experience Anna’s wonderful play, mounted by this exceptionally talented creative team. This is such a captivating story, and I couldn’t be more excited to share with you Gaye Taylor Upchurch’s remarkable work in bringing it to a New York stage for the first time. As always, I am eager to hear your reactions to the show, so please continue to email me at with your thoughts. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!


Todd Haimes
Artistic Director/CEO

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The Psyches Of Champions


THE LAST MATCH begins previews October 28, 2017


The Last Match brings the audience into the minds of two top tennis players engaged in intense competition. According to sports psychologist David Fletcher, professional athletes differ from most people. “Winning in sport isn’t normal; so being psychologically different in certain ways is not just advantageous, it’s necessity.” Fletcher notes a tendency towards positive characteristics like resilience and extroversion in pro athletes, but also towards negative traits, like obsession and selfishness. An understanding of how the mind impacts athletic performance has led to a profession called sports psychology, which can help explain the drive to compete.



Since the 19th century, psychologists have seen that athletes perform better in head-to-head competition versus practicing alone. Competition improves

Actor Alex Mickiewicz practices his serve.

performance, such as speed or hitting a ball, and it also impacts physiology, such as endurance, heart rate, and the ability to withstand pain. Social comparison—the tendency to compare ourselves to others—helps drive competition. Athletes or not, most humans rank ourselves to determine if we are “ahead” or “behind” others. Comparison usually raises our competitive edge; however, if we sense too many competitors in the field, the desire to compare and compete may actually decrease.


Rivalry, the focused comparison directed at one individual that we see between Tim and Sergei, plays a greater role in single-player games like tennis. NYU researcher Gavin Kilduff has shown that athletes compete more intensely against individuals or teams they view as rivals. Kilduff explains that rivals “are motivated to outperform each other not just because of what is at stake in the competition, but also because of their history with one another and the implications that future competitions between them have for this competitive relationship.”


MOTIVATION: Extrinsic vs Intrinsic

Comparison and rivalry both serve as motivation, but people compete for a variety of reasons. Sports psychologists look at distinctions between extrinsic motivation (external goals) and intrinsic motivation (internal reasons). Sports offer many external rewards: money, scholarships, fame, and glory. However, intrinsically motivated athletes find a sense of success through their own improvement and growth, and in the pure enjoyment of the game. For pros like Tim and Sergei, long-term dependence on extrinsic rewards can actually diminish internal motivation over time. Coaches and sports psychologists now see the benefits of stronger intrinsic motivation to support a long sports career.

Actor Alex Mickiewicz visiting the U.S. Open.

THOUGHTS: Focus vs. Distraction

Thoughts during the game have significant impact on performance—especially in tennis, a game played with no teammates or coaches. Maintaining focus is crucial in a match that can last a long time, with no pauses. Under pressure, the player who keeps their attention on the game and does not allow distractions to break their focus has a competitive edge. Additionally, self-talk (how an athlete speaks to her/himself during the game) can affect performance either for better or worse. Ziegler allows us to hear the “self-talk” of two highly competitive athletes. Even if we can’t hit a ball, we can  understand how competition informs our own lives, be it in school, work, or at home.



The Last Match begins performances at the Laura Pels Theatre on September 28, 2017 . For tickets and information, please visit our website.

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2017-2018 Season, The Last Match

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