Just a Second

Back in April 2001, when Jonathan Harvey founded the Fan Factory Theatre Company, he wanted to do shows that were "less theatrical" and "more real and genuine." Without a doubt, no one's more real in this world than the guy who always comes in second, which is why New York playwright Marc Palmieri's Carl the Second fits so nicely into the company's third season.

Carl focuses on a guy who always plays second fiddle. His sorry little tale unfolds in a strange comedy about love, baseball and the pathetic expectations that most of us have of our own loser lives. According to Harvey, it's a cautionary tale about a bookstore manager who has so little faith in himself that he "ends up shooting himself in the foot" when it comes to love. "During the first act you really think Carl's found the girl and everything's going well," he says. "And in the second act, his own insecurities start eating away at him and end up eroding that beautiful thing that we see in the first act." But perhaps it's not destroyed completely -- you'll have to go to the show to find out whether he gets the girl in the end.

Palmieri, who reportedly chose theater school over a chance to pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays, weaves baseball into the script in a strange and unexpected way. "Carl decides he needs to have an epic battle with the ex-fiancé of the girl he's in love with," says Harvey. "The ex is a baseball player. And Carl, who's not a baseball player at all, decides to challenge the ex-fiancé's team to a duel. Carl puts together a ragtag group of friends -- a yoga instructor, a writer, a theater professor -- and they decide to take on the athletes, and they lose epically. It's 78 to nothing."

The losing side is where poor Carl seems most comfortable. To keep himself company, he dreams up a world that includes some of Western literature's most infamous failures. All sorts of sad sacks appear, including Bovary, the naughty Madame's sad little worm of a husband; Chatterly, the luscious Lady's nonentity of a man; Jay Gatsby, the 20th century's most earnest loser; and Captain Ahab, the meanest lost cause of them all. All these characters are "famous seconds," says Harvey. And in the end, Carl can't decide whether to join one of them in a life of adventure or to finally open the door to love.

Of the funniest moments, Harvey includes a scene with Carl's friend Al, an American lit professor. "Al takes Carl to his Acting for Beautiful Girls class, which is where Carl meets his girlfriend," says Harvey. "It's a very funny scene because the girls are obviously very beautiful but not very talented. Carl comes to help read some of the male parts, but you understand that the professor has turned the casting couch into a class. It's a very quirky show."

And clearly it's a show that revels in what's real, so to speak. Almost everyone knows what it's like to lose at love, and there's nothing more genuine than playing second banana.

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Lee Williams