Ryan Harr, as sleazy reporter Stephen Detwaller, questions Jeremy Jarmon, as troubled quarterback Tyrone Wilmot, in Andrew Shafer's Weak/Side/Help. Copyrighted LexGo photo by Pablo Alcala.
They call it stunt casting: putting someone in a role for their ability to generate interest and ticket sales, not necessarily their ability to act.
On paper, that's how you could interpret the University of Kentucky Theatre's decision to cast UK football player Jeremy Jarmon in its new play about college football. But if this was a stunt, a theatrical Evel Knievel, then Jarmon cleared the gorge, did a few donuts with the motorcycle to kick up a spectacular dust cloud and pumped his fists in victory.
Jarmon was actually a lot more humble during the curtain call for his successful UK stage debut. But his performance in the world premier of Andrew Shafer's Weak/Side/Help was the highlight of this night at the theater. No. 99, when he suits up for the Wildcats, was the best prepared, most commanding and convincing player on the stage.
It was a brave role for Jarmon to take. The play, which won the second James W. Rodgers playwriting competition, is about a major college football program that becomes embroiled in performance enhancing drug and racial scandals. Tyrone is an explosive player who starts the play implicating his rival for the quarterback spot in steroid abuse during an interview with a newspaper reporter.
That moment brings the play to life after a weak opening, and Jarmon dominates all his scenes, including an intense confrontation with said rival quarterback, played by Alex Koehl in one of the play's other standout performances. While he often had to convey strength, Jarmon also had to portray some vulnerability, asking a team assistant to get him drugs, and he played the victim in the play's shattering revelation. It all rang true.
This is not entirely surprising. Football fans got to see film of Jarmon performing the "You can't handle the truth!" scene during UK games last fall -- ironic, since people's inability to handle truth is one of the themes of this play. The defensive end was an actor in high school, and according to UK theater department chair Nancy Jones, he said he had been interested in auditioning for the Fall 2006 production of A Raisin in the Sun, except it conflicted with the football schedule. UK Theatre should look for another chance to work this multi-talented student into a show.
This casting was an attention grabber. The only other time I've seen TV cameras in a Lexington play was when UK Theatre presented celebrated Kentucky novelist Silas House's playwriting debut, The Hurting Part, in 2005. The good news is, like that play, Jarmon's performance was worthy of the attention.
Read: UK football beat writer Chip Cosby's story about Jarmon's UK acting debut.
Coming Sunday: Check out the Arts+Life section and LexGo for more on Shafer and the Rodgers competition, and look here for thoughts on the play and highlights of Shafer's pre-show chat Thursday.