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Thursday, 06 December 2007 19:17
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 NEW YORK (AP) -``The Hall of Fame is a lie.''
That line, written and performed by Bo Eason, didn't sit well with the wife of future Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews the first time Eason presented his one-man play to his former NFL teammates.
Eason's character, a hard-hitting safety just as he was, asserts that the guys in the Hall are the so-called smart players, who don't push themselves to the limit on every snap to preserve their bodies.
When Carrie Matthews asked Eason why he said that, her husband, chuckling, interjected, ``Because it's true.''
The truth Eason seeks to reveal in his play is not an expose on the NFL but the dynamic of a family. ``Runt of the Litter,'' which opens Saturday off-Broadway, tells the story of an undersized player obsessed with making the pros, pushed on by equally obsessed parents.
The setting is a locker room before a conference championship game, where the opposing quarterback is his more-talented older brother.
``Every performance, somebody comes up and says, 'I know nothing about football, and I couldn't believe the power of the story,''' director Larry Moss said.
Eason's older brother, Tony, was an NFL quarterback for eight seasons with the New England Patriots and New York Jets. In 1987, Bo's Houston Oilers and the Patriots were scheduled to meet, but that year's strike thwarted what would have been the brothers' only NFL matchup.
Wondering what it would've been like to face his brother inspired ``Runt of the Litter,'' which weaves snippets of people and moments from Eason's life with fictional events.
Football and acting were always his dual passions. Eason enjoyed attending school plays, but he stuck to sports as a teenager.
``Those two worlds just never mix,'' he said of the high school social scene.
In college at UC-Davis, Eason minored in drama, sneaking to acting classes between football practices. While playing four years with the Oilers, Eason continued to quietly study acting during the offseason.
He moved to New York after retiring to pursue his new career. His first movie role came in ``Miami Rhapsody,'' a 1995 release starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Antonio Banderas and Mia Farrow.
The first scene he shot was a love scene. He and his ``wife,'' played by Carla Gugino, were on their honeymoon. The wardrobe people handed Eason a hanger with a skin-colored jock strap hanging on it.
``I remember being in the bed in between the takes, she was on top of me, and there's literally 50 people around the bed,'' he said.
One of those 50 people kept applying makeup to his foot, which was sticking out of the bed.
Eason attended an audition for the role of the quarterback in ``Rudy'' - he had to call a play in the huddle. He performed the lines, drawing on considerable personal experience.
He never expected the reaction of the woman doing the casting. She sighed and said, ``I don't think they do it that way.''
Eason never fancied himself a writer. But after he unsuccessfully pitched his idea for ``Runt of the Litter'' to several writer friends, he decided he might as well do it himself.
On Jan. 7, 1998, he started by drawing the stage layout in an unlined sketchbook. A bookstore in Hollywood offered free parking for up to three hours if you bought a coffee. So for three hours a day for two years, he sat there and wrote.
When Eason presented the first 10 minutes of the play in a class taught by Moss, a renowned acting coach, Moss decided he wanted to direct it.
The play opened in Houston in 2001 in front of many of Eason's former teammates, including Matthews, the 14-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, and another future Hall of Famer, quarterback Warren Moon.
The play ran off-Broadway in New York in 2002. He estimates that he's performed it more than 500 times in about a dozen cities.
The most memorable stage was a juvenile detention center in Los Angeles about three years ago. A counselor there had seen the play and invited him to come to the center. About 250 inmates, some convicted of murder and sex offenses, sat cross-legged on the cement floor in their orange jumpsuits. Eason's wife had to wear a long-sleeved blouse with a high neck.
``They really responded to (the play),'' he said. ``They were very vocal. They were into it.''
Eason sold the script to Castle Rock Entertainment in late 2001 to be made into a movie directed by Frank Darabont, whose credits include ``The Shawshank Redemption'' and ``The Green Mile,'' with Eason adapting the screenplay.
The experience has been a crash course in Hollywood moviemaking. A process he assumed would take months is lasting years.
``You go into these meetings and there's eight people in there telling you eight different things about eight different characters,'' he said, laughing.
He vividly recalls one particular suggestion.
``I don't think the woman had ever left Beverly Hills in her life, and she was telling me how black guys should talk in a locker room,'' Eason said. ``I was like, 'Are you serious? You're going to tell me that?'''
Eason remains hopeful the story will someday reach the big screen. In the meantime, he is starting what he expects will be at least a six-month engagement in New York. His longest previous run was about 10 weeks, so he's curious to see what challenges and advantages come with so many consecutive performances of the 90-minute production.
For the 46-year-old Eason, who has undergone multiple knee surgeries, it reminds him of an NFL season, getting his body ready to endure a physically demanding job time after time.
``I always remember when we came back in the locker room,'' he said. ``Even if you lost, there was some sense of gratification that you actually survived, that you actually achieved something. And you're beat up and you're tired and you gave everything you have.
``Same thing in this. Every night, I always wonder, 'I don't know if I'll be able to do this or not. I don't know if I have the energy.' Somehow, something happens. You step out there, and it all happens.''
 

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